Breaking outside of the WU bubble: Senior creates tutoring program to support St. Louis area students during the pandemic

| Staff Writer

For many public school families in the greater St. Louis area, the announcement that learning would transition into a mostly online format was met with a mixed response.

Mia Goldberg | Student Life

On one hand, a seemingly never-ending pandemic deserves a socially distanced approach. On the other hand, students, especially younger children, were expected to break all sorts of conventions by spending their entire day in front of a computer, constantly muting and unmuting on Zoom and trying to engage with their education without proper access to teachers, mentors and other resources.

When senior Dani Wilder heard the news, she treated it as her call-to-action.

“For me, I wanted to do something to help alleviate that tension parents would have,” Wilder said. “I’ve tutored friends in the past and I know how important it is to have academic support–especially in times like this–and I felt like I could do something about it.”

Beginning in late summer, Wilder reached out to numerous outlets geared towards parents to see if anyone would be interested in a tutoring program that would partner Washington University students with K-12 students in the region. She was shocked by how many responses she received.

“I was surprised,” she said. “I got hundreds of requests and I knew that this project had to turn into something bigger.”

Wilder turned towards class groups to help spread the word and gauge how many University students would be interested. The response was just as plentiful. Within a matter of days, a 44-page document was created compiling all the University students interested in partnering. From freshmen who haven’t even explored campus yet to experienced upperclassmen, the initiative really gained interest.

Senior Matthew Bitner-Glindzicz was just one of the nearly 100 students who chose to participate in the initiative.

“Honestly, I didn’t initially think I would be a tutor,” he said, “but when I heard about how there was a middle school kid who was special needs and wanted a tutor, I knew I had to join.”

Bitner-Glindzicz, who will be graduating with a degree in mechanical engineering, grew up with an autistic younger brother.

“I have an idea of just how difficult learning with special needs is,” he said. “My brother is one of the smartest people I know, but his education didn’t always instill confidence in his abilities. When I had the chance to be a mentor to someone who might be dealing with similar struggles, it was too hard to pass up on.”

Bitner’s emphasis on being something more than a tutor through this initiative is not unique among the group. Many of the tutors are dealing with challenges on their own–online courses, a lack of social interaction, difficulty in maintaining a balanced life amongst all the stress that comes with 2020–but chose to participate in this initiative to leave an impact on the community around them.

Junior Camryn Payne, who is a general chemistry tutor on campus, used her pre-med experiences and STEM knowledge to teach first-graders.

“It feels refreshing to just focus on the essentials of life, like knowing what the different shapes are, memorizing the alphabet and counting without using your fingers,” she said.

When asked about what she gained from this experience, Payne echoed Bitner’s sentiment.

“I’m definitely being an academic resource but at the same time I’m providing some social interaction,” she said. “Zoom is a challenge, especially for a first-grader, and it’s important I’m there to help out in terms of confidence and comfort. It’s been great for me, my first-grader and her family.”

For Wilder, the University community was instrumental in helping this initiative take place.

“This was all done through word-of-mouth, but faculty, Wash. U resources and of course students all came together to help with this,” she said. “It only took a few days before I had people talking to me about how they can contribute to the initiative in terms of logistics and organization and that was amazing.”

Although this initiative began in August, it marks another crucial component of the academic resources University students have provided in the greater St. Louis area. Whether it be Campus Y or Partners in East St. Louis, many clubs have developed a niche to play a role in this area and Wilder hopes this initiative continues to leave an impact.

“The initiative turned out the way it was because I realized that with COVID-19, quarantine, online learning and all that there was, a place where peers could add some positivity,” she said. “In fact, I know some students might be in need of financial assistance with the lack of employment right now and this initiative is even helping with that by partnering them with families who are willing to pay for their services.”

Wilder, who is graduating this December with a degree in biochemistry, knows her time is coming to a close at the University but has complete confidence in the ability for her initiative to continue on.

“So many freshman and sophomores are involved,” she said. “My ‘second-in-command’ is a junior who is eager to continue this on. I’ll even be on gap-year, so certainly I’ll be there if help is needed. There is always a need for initiatives like this, and I think anyone interested will definitely be able to join soon.”

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