University of Michigan students start free online tutoring service for low-income families

ANN ARBOR, MI — Alina Bardwell wanted to get involved with volunteering over the summer, but because of the coronavirus pandemic, in-person volunteering was largely impossible.

That’s when she got the idea of becoming an online tutor. Now, she and more than a dozen other UM students have created MiTutor, a free online tutoring service that helps K-12 students in low-income families get help with their schoolwork.

As schools transitioned to online platforms, Bardwell realized that now is the time to help students keep up with school, especially for low income families who might not be able to comfortably afford typical tutoring rates.

“We all know that lower-income families have been hit harder than anyone by the pandemic. Some have lost their jobs, some have been forced to quit in order to help their kids with school, many are essential workers working long hours and cannot be home to help their kids with school,” said Bardwell, a sophomore from Ann Arbor. “We want to give back in the best, safest way we can: by helping their kids perform better in school for free.”

Bardwell drove around Ypsilanti over the summer and hung up posters with her contact info promoting free virtual tutoring. One family contacted her in August and asked for help. Since then, she has been tutoring their child twice a week and formed a personal connection with the family.

After finding another family in need, she asked her friend, Johanna Bozic, a UM sophomore from Chicago, to tutor them, and the two talked over winter break about expanding the program. While just looking at the Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti originally, the duo found that online tutoring was a need for the Metro Detroit area as virtual learning continued throughout the fall and into 2021.

Tutors have experience in all subjects and can help students complete their schoolwork or who are falling behind their peers in specific subjects, Bardwell said. Tutors will be matched with families based on the tutor’s experience in areas that the student needs help in, as well as the availability of the tutor, schedule for both parties and the initial fit between the two.

“Above all, we are focusing on building strong relationships with our students and helping them enjoy learning,” Bardwell said. “Our matching program is designed to foster these relationships so that students feel comfortable with one tutor helping them with their schoolwork.”

After posting in an Ypsilanti Facebook group, Bardwell and Bozic said the interest in MiTutor has grown significantly. Bardwell said the post had over 40 responses from interested parents, and while distance isn’t a factor because everything is virtual, there are only about 15 to 20 tutors available for the upcoming semester.

Bardwell and Bozic are doing their best to accommodate the demand, but they hope that as the program grows, more tutors will be available to work with students. As the pandemic gets better, Bardwell hopes to safely transition into in-person tutoring, but both know that virtual learning will likely never go away.

For Bozic, the goal is to not only help kids with their education, but also to give them more confidence in school, something to look forward to and a friend who will listen to them.

“I think this program is great because, eventually, I believe our tutors will learn that as much as we help these kids, they really help us too,” said Bozic.

In the future, Bardwell and Bozic will be looking for more UM students with tutoring experience to join their team. Tutors will start working with families on Jan. 18, Bardwell said. Interested families can contact Bardwell at [email protected] or Bozic at [email protected].


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