Editor's note: This article was sponsored by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.
Of the countless uncertainties, stressors and “You must be kidding me!” disruptions of the pandemic, many parents and teachers would undoubtedly rank as perhaps most challenging the struggles related to providing quality distance learning for their students. Early on in the wake of school closures, Logan Spoonemore, now a senior at The Northwest School, was doing her daily reading of The New York Times and saw an article about how disproportionately the pandemic was straining some parents, specifically parents working in frontline jobs, in their ability to support their children’s remote schooling.
Acknowledging her relative privilege attending a private school with abundant resources, Spoonemore decided to do something about it. She marched up to her room, and after a productive span of about two weeks in April 2020, Students Helping Students Seattle, her brainchild concept of a free volunteer-led service that pairs high school tutors with younger kids who need help with their distance learning, was born.
ParentMap got the chance to catch up with Spoonemore to learn more about the program and what’s next on her enterprising agenda.
What motivated you to start Students Helping Students Seattle?
At the onset of distance learning last year, I noticed personally the struggles of online learning and I recognized I’m very privileged to attend this private school where I have extra support from teachers. Throughout that whole process, I couldn’t help but imagine how difficult it must be for younger students and their parents.
So, I presented the idea to my dad. At first he said, “That’s pretty impossible. There’s no way that would work.” But I went up to my room and I found this website-making software, and I put it all together. My dad was very surprised.
From there, how did you seek additional support to launch the program successfully?
I wanted to make sure I had enough volunteer tutors so that when the requests came in, I wasn’t denying anyone access or I wouldn’t have enough tutors. So, I sent out an email to the principal of my school and then to other public and private school principals in the Seattle area asking if I could get a student coordinator, explaining the role and seeing if they’d be willing to support it. The response I got was amazing.
How many volunteer coordinators and tutors do you have now?
I have eight student coordinators, 350 tutors, and I believe that the volunteers come from 38 different schools.
The student coordinators definitely help by bringing in the tutors, and if I have a special request come in — say it’s someone who wants to learn Mandarin — I can text and get into contact with the coordinators to see if they can find anyone.
Do you have a succession plan in mind for when you move on to college?
I actually have a younger sister who is going to be in ninth grade next year. She’s one of the smartest people I know, so I think I’m going to spend some time before I leave teaching her. She’s very involved in lots of activism and programs, and she is very excited about potentially taking over the program.
When you reflect on what you’ve accomplished, what has surprised you most?
When I first started, I thought the only need I would be fulfilling is for having people get academic assistance, but as I’ve gone through it, I’ve noticed how helpful it is for younger students to have a friend and be able to form community within this program. But, honestly, what surprised me the most is how many volunteers we got! I was not expecting this many people to be this kind and offer their time — they’re honestly heroes. I’m very proud of each and every volunteer who signed up, because it’s a time commitment.
What are the most common tutoring requests you’ve received?
I would say it’s a pretty broad range, but definitely the most common request is math, for sure. Elementary and middle school math.
Do you have any reflections on how you think education might actually change for the better as a result of some of the pandemic adaptations we’ve all had to make?
We’re all going through this, kids are all going through this, each in their own way, experiencing some form of struggle with online learning. I do see how it builds a sense of community, and, also, I think it allows teachers to understand the importance of in-person learning. I feel we took that for granted. But I think it’s also sparked a lot of creativity. One of my friends who is a volunteer tutor teaches a first-grader in math and they did a virtual baking activity together to learn measurements. People are coming up with new ideas and getting creative to help students learn online.
How would you advise another young person to take action on the issues that matter to them?
I think it’s important to have something that you really believe in and support if you’re going to go lengths to do it, because I think it’s important that once you start something to make sure you truly have a passion for it and are willing to sacrifice time.
How would you advise a parent to support their kid in making change?
For the parent, I would just say support them — whatever you can do, just support their dreams and let them know that you’re there if they need anything.
Do you have a vision for your future?
I will be attending Pomona College. I think I’m going to do the PPE program, so it involves politics, philosophy and economics. I have a pretty big dream: I want to reinvent business. I think there are lots of issues with business, particularly [with respect to] its effects on the environment and women. My goal is to reimagine the whole system. That’s why I really wanted to go to a liberal arts school, because I want to learn how to think like that. I want to figure out a way that business can help society instead of degrade it.
Who is your personal hero?
I would honestly say my dad. I’m very close to him. He’s a lawyer. He’s very successful, but he only takes cases he really believes in. He’s done cases that have helped provide health care to people who didn’t already have access to it. I’m very, very inspired by him and the work that he does to help other people.