Paris Cai initially wanted to start a peer-to-peer tutoring club at her high school, Waterloo Collegiate Institute, but the strains the pandemic was putting on its staff made that impossible to pull off.
So instead, the Grade 11 student and her executive team of other high-schoolers turned Homework Hub Tutoring into a global online enterprise that now counts 300 students and a similar number of volunteer tutors from as far afield as Kenya, India, and the Philippines among its beneficiaries and backers.
“During the pandemic, my friends and I, now my team, realized a lot of students needed homework help, help with their assignments, because at the time we were in this weird 'virtual slash live' learning pattern that was pretty hard for some students,” said Cai, Homework Hub’s founder and president.
“At the time, I already wanted to help the community, a lot of my friends wanted to find a way to help during the pandemic and with that motivation, combined with the fact we were still bored at home, we decided to do something,” she said.
A non-profit organization since early this year, Homework Hub provides free one-on-one tutoring for students in grades one to seven across the curriculum in eight-week blocks of 45-minute sessions a week. Students can enrol for help in up to three subjects at the same time, with French turning out to be the most in-demand subject.
They are paired with a high school student (who can log the hours towards the community service required to graduate) or university student tutors who have a minimum grade average and have been vetted via application process and interview.
Cai will run the club she’d initially planned for her school this year, while the team is also hoping to work with more school boards across the province to help students struggling to keep up after 18 months of disrupted education.
Ahead of back to school, this summer Homework Hub teamed up with Rising Youth, and with a small donation from Costco, provided some 250 backpacks filled with school materials to local refugee and low-income groups to distribute.
The hub is also looking to add offerings for Grade 8 students and is launching a branch in New York City (it is already working with a school in the U.S. state of Georgia). Cai hopes to have some 500 tutors in the fold by the end of this calendar year.
Cai and her family used to live in the United States and have moved frequently, meaning she had an extensive and diffuse network to call on, which has since been bolstered by word of mouth and the team’s Instagram outreach.
“This grew a lot faster than I think any of us expected when we started,” she said in a video interview with Canada’s National Observer.
“At the beginning we were just having fun helping a couple of people, but once we really started seeing the numbers go up, seeing how many people really needed this, it was a really big demand in our community, so that's when we started to take things more seriously and reached out to more young people who’d be willing to work with us.”
Morgan Sharp, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Canada's National Observer