Shree Reddy was a junior at Santiago High School when the COVID-19 pandemic hit. Schools in Southern California abruptly transitioned to online learning, with Reddy’s school being the first in the district to halt in-person instruction.
During the early days of the pandemic when online learning was brand new to many students and families, Reddy saw a pressing need arise.
“We were seeing a huge discrepancy in the quality of education, especially for students in marginalized communities,” says Reddy. “There’s a huge disparity with achievement gaps, not only in learning itself, but just in the overall school system.”
To combat these achievement gaps, Reddy along with two friends, Kaitlyn Park and Sanya Dhama, founded GoToTutors, a free online peer-tutoring service. By providing this free service, they aimed to make the needed education resources accessible to anyone in their school district and beyond.
“I got my friends to start tutoring and then the word spread and a lot of other high school students started signing up to be tutors,” says Reddy. “It was mostly tutoring K-8, but then we later expanded to 8-12 as well.”
Two years later, the organization is now a registered 501(c)3 nonprofit organization with over 100 volunteer tutors who have provided over 1,500 hours of tutoring. They have expanded their core subject offerings to include Spanish and English language programs.
Addressing a Pressing Need in Education
Prior to founding GoToTutors, Reddy had experience doing educational policy work. This gave her insight into the divide in access to educational resources across different communities.
“GoToTutors mission is really to democratize education, make it accessible for all and to diminish achievement gaps for those in marginalized communities,” Reddy explains. “By having an online platform and peer tutoring there’s a lot of connection that, especially during the height of the pandemic, was so needed.”
GoToTutors primarily provides math, English, science, and history tutoring, with a focus on math and English. They have served students mostly in the United States, as well as Canada and Mexico. And as more schools transitioned to 100% online learning, the student tutors have seen more needs arise.
“An interesting trend we saw was that a lot of our sign ups were for kindergarten through second grade. Their parents just wanted someone to read with them and work on phonetics and things like that,” says Reddy. “These are the kind of things that really fall through the cracks on your online versus in-person schooling.”
The GoToTutors team uses session evaluations to improve their operations, for example, how they match tutors to students. There has been incredible positive feedback from the students being tutored and the parents of younger students. Yet, the volume of positivity surprised Reddy.
“I was very surprised at the amount and the magnitude of positive feedback that we were receiving,” she says. “I think when a student is the one teaching, there’s another level of connection.”
Some of the most impactful stories have come from tutors that are working with younger kids in kindergarten, first or second grade. The positive feedback and making a difference in these students’ lives is a huge motivating factor to Reddy and the rest of the team.
The Individual Impact
Over one thousand students have gotten learning assistance through GoToTutors, but Reddy stresses that the individual impact should not be overlooked.
“The great thing about tutoring is that even tutoring one person can make a huge impact on them, their family, and their circle. When you help out a student, you’re also helping out the parents. You’re relieving them,” says Reddy. “So just the individual nature of what we do is the biggest impact that we could have, especially in the pandemic when individual connections were minimized, if not looked at at all.”
Advice to Young Changemakers in the Making
When asked what she would tell other teens who want to create an impact, Reddy shares that identifying what you want to pursue is an important first step.
“Be very passionate and intentional about the problem or the cause that you’re trying to work with. You have to know what you’re interested in, and if you’re not actually passionate about it, that makes it really hard to put in the work and extra effort to make it succeed,” she says. “After you identify what you’re actually passionate about and what is a pressing need in today’s world, that’s when you can go from there.”
Looking to the Future
Reddy is currently a freshman at Stanford University. She’s thinking of majoring in computer science, with a concentration in artificial intelligence and a minor in economics. College has exposed her to many new exciting viewpoints, a “world of possibilities,” that has inspired her to continue making an impact through GoToTutors, but also in the world beyond.
“Career-wise, I’m interested in really going into entrepreneurship and the startup space. GoToTutors made me realize how much I love the feeling of starting something and running my own company,” says Reddy. “Combining that technical knowledge that I’m going to gain with my computer science degree with experience in social entrepreneurship for social good is where I see my future heading.”
As for GoToTutors, Reddy has some practical things to address. Currently she has a leadership team who is currently managing the day-to-day operations so the volunteer tutors themselves could be more involved in running the organization.
The organization is working on expanding the English-language learners program, simplifying various processes and getting software to automate their systems. An overarching goal remains clear, make education accessible to all, and by expanding and becoming more efficient, GoToTutors can reach even more students.
Learn more about GoToTutors. Read more Rustic Spirit stories.