It became apparent by April 2020 that the lives of millions of students impacted by the Covid-19 pandemic would not be returning to normal anytime soon. A rising high school senior from the bay area, Rohit Malhotra also saw the crisis impacting educational needs in the long term. Malhotra, along with a dedicated team made up of her twin sister Richa, and friends Gaby Tran, and Sanjay Naidu, wanted to do something to respond to the crisis while addressing the larger disparities they saw in access to support and aid.
Shortly after noticing the need, the four founded Learn in Shelter to provide students newly adjusting to learning at home with academic support through high-quality tutoring-for free.
“Many schools were holding group meetings with 50 students at a time,” said Ananya Modi, Learn in Shelter’s high school PR specialist based in New York. “Students weren’t getting the same academic support as in-person sessions at school.”
The founders of Learn in Shelter started with just a few friends, working in their local high schools by reaching out to principals. By May, Learn in Shelter experienced quick growth and early success. “It started independently, but I am so grateful to have wonderful and talented people join me,” Malhotra said.
Learn in Shelter tutors started using Zoom, Google Meet, or whichever platform each school preferred. The tutors aimed to make it easy for school staff and students, while also providing security by using passwords and other secure communication.
Building relationships with principals to reach potential students was an initial challenge.
“At first, there were a lot more tutors ready to engage with students,” Modi said. To meet the expanding pool of tutors, the group looked for PR specialists across North America–like Modi–between the ages of 14 and 18.
Now, the student-run organization has grown and is operating in 34 U.S. states, two Canadian provinces, and with 578 students and 665 tutors. Learn in Shelter has a roster of multilingual tutors (some speak Spanish and French) and tutors who specialize in working with English Learners (EL).
The organization has room to expand their efforts to more schools and locations, as the pandemic is still impact in-person learning into the fall semester.
How to Be a Tutor with Learn in Shelter
After application, each tutor receives a comprehensive tutor handbook, a security screening, and ID check. Student safety is integral to the operation of Learn in Shelter, AND the group verifies tutor transcripts to confirm ability and responsibility. Once confirmed, tutors are matched with a student.
Learn in Shelter asks tutors to commit to at least one, one-hour session per week. During the initial tutoring session, the pair set up a recurring Zoom call depending on student schedules (generally during business hours).
Kelly, a high school senior from California, said even though she had experience tutoring middle schoolers, she had a lot to learn about sharing math and English online with her Learn-in-Shelter students.
“After tutoring for a couple of sessions, I gradually grew used to planning lessons, interacting with younger students, and understanding their individual methods of learning,” she said. “Connecting with these students and simply having social interaction in times like these is invaluable. Teaching remotely during this pandemic is beneficial to not only the pupil, but also the mentor. Tutoring is a great way for me to use my time productively and enhance my own teaching, planning, and leadership capabilities.”
Kelly advises anyone considering becoming a tutor during these times, “To go for it!”
How to Be a Student with Learn in Shelter
A student is matched within one week of a parent making an application, aiming for compatibility with a tutor. The hope is for these relationships to grow and perhaps continue in-person post-COVID.
Rebekah, a California mother to a 2nd grader when lockdown started, said Learn in Shelter was her son’s first experience with a tutor and online support.
“My 8-year-old son loved learning from a teenager. He responded so well to these 'big kids' much better than when I tried to support him. I believe he felt 'cool' because he was partnering with a high schooler,” Rebekah said. “They also made it super fun and engaging by considering his interests like Pokémon and video games) and using these interests to get him to commit, willingly participate, and be excited to complete the activity during the tutoring sessions.”
Rebekah says she hopes to continue to have the support of the Learn-in Shelter-tutors this fall. “They've made a huge difference in our lives both academically and emotionally.”
Ways to support Learn in Shelter
Learn in Shelter needs donations to cover the paid email services–and all the tools to make a national organization of this type work (list management, web-site services, and web ads). These digital tools would help make customer relationship management more efficient and productive, allowing more time to focus on tutoring and students. The group is in the process of getting its 501(c)3 status, delayed due to the crisis.
Be a tutor
Volunteer your time to support children academically and emotionally during the Coronavirus pandemic. You’ll receive training and be matched with a learner within the week.
Share the Word on Social Media
Follow Shelter in Place. Repost on your stories. Spread the word to family, friends, PTAs, and school administrators. If you know people in high school, encourage them to join the tutoring or PR teams.
Find them on social:
Contact Learn in Shelter at firstname.lastname@example.org with questions.