New York City high schoolers fill in gaps with a free tutoring program

Members of Scholar Studio's managing team.
Members of Scholar Studio's managing team.
Members of Scholar Studio's managing team.

New York City high schoolers fill in gaps with a free tutoring program

Their nonprofit aims to help younger students after a year filled with school closures and educational challenges.
August 3, 2021

A group of high schoolers are gearing up to help other students struggling with the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic return to the classroom this fall with confidence. The method? Free online tutoring starting this week on Aug. 2 through their nonprofit Scholar Studio. 

The high school tutors have a busy month ahead of them. Around 160 students, primarily middle schoolers and incoming high schoolers, located all over the city have signed up so far. That number is likely to rise too – in fact, the group’s seven-member team hopes it does. Sign-ups for classes such as U.S. history, problem solving, computer science and Specialized High School Admissions Test prep for math and English are open on a rolling basis. 

This will be the second summer in a row that the high schoolers have offered free tutoring. Rising senior Alyssa Choi, a student at Stuyvesant High School, said she and the other organizers formed Scholar Studio last year following the upheaval of in-person learning. Many of them already knew one another, having attended middle school together in Forest Hills, and wanted to support other students’ academics during a time of heightened uncertainty and challenges. 

Xiaoshen Ma, also a rising senior at Stuyvesant High School, said in deciding to form the group, they all recognized they come “from a very loving community of teachers and older students.” 

“As a group of students who never had to worry about food and living space, we had parents willing to dedicate time and money to our education,” Ma said. “When the pandemic struck, the prep schools we were familiar with and all schools were affected. That summer I stayed in contact with many struggling families and also taught in a virtual art class for Uganda's Kasangula Talent school. Then we realized that education was not a priority for many families but rather a privilege.” 

The idea, Choi says, is to help other students feel more prepared for the upcoming school year, particularly given that many will be in-person for the first time in more than a year and a half. 

They also hope to provide the participating students with mentorship and support as they prepare to apply to high schools. 

I know it can be kind of stressful and if they don’t have a support system to walk them through the process it might be kind of complicated and stressful,” Choi said. “So I wish that by being in this program and having high school students to ask questions to and seek help from, they might feel more comfortable with their upcoming school year.” 

Emma Bell, a rising senior at Townsend Harris High School and another founding member, said tutoring sessions function like a traditional classroom where tutors ask the students questions and give quizzes. 

“They are very receptive to the learning and the education even though they don’t like the homework over the summer they still try very hard,” Bell said. 

Stuyvesant High School rising senior Jennifer Sun said she hopes that by introducing niche topics like computer science and problem solving, students will discover a love for the material and be inclined to pursue the topic once they enter high school. 

The majority of signed up students are located in Brooklyn and Queens, but all five boroughs will be represented this summer. To reach these students, Scholar Studio’s founding members pasted fliers in libraries, reached out to schools, posted to Facebook groups and spread the word on social media. Efforts were so successful that the team brought in additional students to help with tutoring. Around 20 students are currently involved in the organization. 

Sun said the most rewarding aspect of tutoring has been receiving messages from students who participated last year sharing their high school acceptances and other successes – something she hopes will be replicated again this year.  

“Anyone who is interested in our program should definitely sign up and talk to us. We will find a way to work them in,” Sun said.

Sahalie Donaldson
is an editorial intern at City & State.