This past month marked our one-year anniversary, and we couldn’t be prouder on what we’ve been able to accomplish thanks to your support. Helping families from low-income communities get the education they deserve has been our mission from day one, and we’re so happy that over the past year we’ve been able to do just that.
As we help others along on their journey toward education, we thought we’d share a bit with you about ours, from an idea to a fully operating nonprofit. Our story begins in early 2020 at the University of California, Berkeley, during a turbulent time. As the COVID-19 pandemic caused lockdowns and major changes to daily life, education was hit especially hard: schools were forced to close, lessons had to be adjusted, and students were sent home to face virtual learning for what was likely the first time in their lives. Laptop screens replaced whiteboards, hands-on learning was traded for online assignments, and where students once could interact with instructors in the classroom, they now saw their teachers only through video calls.
The inability to gather in person caused many extracurricular activities and after-school educational support systems to shut down. This meant many students in need of extra help were left unsupported: their educational needs and goals hadn’t changed, yet everything else around them had, in a way that made meeting those needs more difficult.
While this was a new experience for some students, for others, educational and financial disparities didn’t begin with the pandemic. For years, low-income and marginalized communities have often lacked the attention and resources needed to succeed in school. These challenges are hard to overcome for students in underserved populations such as communities of color and non-English speaking communities. With the financial losses exacerbated by the pandemic and with many parents being essential workers, these students already in need faced even greater academic consequences.
That’s where we come in. At UC Berkeley, our founder, Harley Simpson, saw this education gap and recruited five other recent graduates who knew something had to be done. They came together with a common goal: to provide essential academic support and other valuable programs in order to serve communities in need, all for free.
“I had tried to find ways to volunteer as soon as quarantine began but had no luck,” Harley said. “I heard the issues my nephew and god-daughter were having and how few students were showing up to their classes. I did some research and found evidence on the impact missing a semester had on those kids, all of which is highly amplified in low-income communities. I thought free online tutoring would be an easy way to match up college students, suddenly with a lot of free time, with grade school students desperately in need of academic attention and social contact. A year later Pandemic Professors means a lot to me. It legitimately made me believe in people more than I did prior. We have also built the foundation for a real organization beyond the pandemic, which was not the original goal either. When I was a kid, we had help from so many different public services and nonprofits, so it fulfills me personally to be in that space helping others and looking for ways to advance that. I love trying to create a space where people can get experience on their terms and forward their own lives.”
We started small, catering to students at one school in Queens, New York. Since then, what began as a group of six volunteers from UC Berkeley now includes tutors from over 30 universities across the country, and that one school in Queens has expanded to 589 student applications. Our amazing tutors come from 42 different states across the country, and we now have students across 19 states. Because of the dedication from our donors and volunteers, we’re able to provide over 350 hours of instruction each week to reach as many students as possible. Read on to learn more about our demographics!
Over the last year, we’ve had the chance to provide students and families with not only free personalized tutoring but other amazing events and opportunities to help level the playing field and give them quality education and a head start in life. Our partnership with the Boys & Girls Club of the Peninsula, for instance, has allowed us to empower students from kindergarten through college in three underserved California neighborhoods, and our Have a Heart, Give a Heart campaign dedicated to funding our partnership with BGCP exceeded its 150-heart goal. We’ve also partnered with capstone students at Carnegie Mellon University to make our student-tutor pairing process more efficient, and our connection with the Center for Building a Culture of Empathy means we can provide empathy training to our volunteers and tutors.
In addition, we’ve held various workshops focused on financial literacy and coding to give students the knowledge they need to make smart decisions and expose them to exciting new skills. Our Instagram Live interview series has led us to conversations with inspiring individuals across various fields, and we even hosted a Spring Gala with keynote speaker Dr. Philip Zimbardo, a silent auction, and a student gallery showcase!
Those are just a few of the incredible ways we’ve been able to help students prosper over the last year, and we’re looking forward to many more years to come. We have many exciting things planned for the future (such as our 6-week summer STEM Camp!), all centered around that initial goal our founders had: to facilitate free online tutoring, cultivate community and fill the education gap, one student at a time. We wouldn’t be here without you — our supporters — and the students, who are the reason we do what we do.
To meet our founders and the rest of our leadership team, click here. If you’d like to get involved with us, visit pandemicprofessors.org/volunteer or pandemicprofessors.org/donate.
Check out some of the amazing comments our students and families have left about their experience working with us, and follow our social media pages to keep tabs on future programs. Thank you for being with us along this journey!
Written By: Christina Avery