Ami Patel and Saniya Mansuri go way back. The two have known each other since their preschool days and have mirrored one another’s academic footsteps from day one – arriving at Western as roommates three years ago to study Biology and Medical Sciences.
And for some time, they’ve been looking for a partnership that could benefit from their friendship and mutual interests.
“We wanted to do something together and knew we both were very passionate about education,” Patel said. “We wanted to gear something around that. We started exploring different initiatives that had already started up in London, and then we came up with the idea of tutoring.”
Last fall, Patel and Mansuri started Smart Steps, a student-run tutoring organization that connects Western students with London elementary school students in need of homework help.
Smart Steps recruits Western students on a volunteer basis to tutor students in Grades 1 to 8 in various subjects. All tutoring sessions take place throughout the week on campus – at the D.B. Weldon and the Allyn and Betty Taylor libraries, specifically. Every elementary student that participates is entitled to three hours of tutoring each week – for free.
“First, we thought we would do it ourselves, but then we realized there are so many students that need tutoring in London. We recruited tutors and formed an executive team in October. We use the Fraser Institute to find which (elementary) schools have the lowest scores, and target our marketing to them through an outreach program,” Patel explained.
Smart Steps, which currently consists of 17 Western students who are all volunteers, reaches out directly to elementary schools, looking to form a community partnership. Schools are more than receptive to the idea, Patel added, as the need for tutoring is there, but the availability of affordable and accessible tutoring is not. Kumon Math & Reading Centre and Sylvan Learning might be great organizations, but they won’t be an option for those who can’t afford their services.
Student tutors were recruited by an interview process, Mansuri explained. Smart Steps saw 68 applicants in October and is recruiting more right now. Potential tutors are asked about their previous experience and have to complete a practical component, teaching the executive members something new and showing their creativity and ability to work with different age groups.
“The first parent (to work with us) asked us if this was for a psychology study,” Mansuri said. “And we said no, this was something we wanted to do for the community. We’re not getting any money out of it.”
That question of ‘why?’ comes up a lot, Patel added, and feedback from parents has been phenomenal, even with just one academic term under the Smart Steps tutoring belt. In December, the team sent out a survey asking parents what they thought of the service and if they wished to continue with their child’s tutor in the Winter Term. All of the responses were positive, she explained, and parents are asking if they can keep their child with Smart Steps all the way through high school. Tutoring secondary school students is something the executive team is eyeing for the future.
There are currently eight elementary school students receiving tutoring from Western students and Smart Steps is continually meeting with and interviewing families who are looking for homework help. Parents and tutors will first meet and come up with a schedule and a routine that would best work for a child, after which parents can drop them off for tutoring sessions.
“We try to keep things the same for the (younger) students. The time is the same, the room is the same, the tutor is the same – routine is good and we try to build on that,” Patel said.
“One of the reasons we want it on campus is we feel if the students see older students in that environment, it helps them be motivated to continue education,” she added.
“A lot of people have different reasons for doing it. We recently did a tutor profile on our Facebook page so people and parents can get more insight on our tutors. A lot of them have tutored in the past and want an opportunity to do it at Western,” Patel said.
One thing the tutors particularly enjoy is the connection between the campus community and the London community, Mansuri continued.
“It’s not just one or the other; you’re bringing them together,” she said. “We couldn’t have come this far without our team and tutors. We are looking into being a registered non-profit organization and are submitting the paperwork.”
For more information, visit the Smart Steps Facebook page.