Students start tutoring service to help high schoolers affected by coronavirus

March 26, 2020, 10:45 p.m.

Two Stanford frosh are starting a tutoring service to help high school students as they adapt to a life of closed schools or online learning. 

Tree Tutors, founded by Xavier Martinez ’23 and Ben Fischer ’23, matches Stanford students to high schoolers for one-hour private or group tutoring sessions via Zoom. 

Fischer and Martinez came up with the idea after Fischer’s father suggested that Fischer tutor students in Seattle, where public schools were cancelled.

“So many students were suddenly lost and uncertain,” Fischer said. “And many schools haven’t even made their online courses official curriculum, but rather just ‘enrichment’ — simply, it’s not enough. There’s a real pressing need for a supplement.” 

The founders also thought that schools shutting down or transitioning to remote learning might be especially difficult for high schoolers who are starting the college application process and planning to take AP tests or the SAT later this year. 

“I saw myself as a high school junior, when I, as an international student for whom college seemed unlikely, felt so confused about the resources,” Fischer said. “I would have loved some hub for learning and contact with the students I aspired to be.” 

But the Tree Tutors team doesn’t only want to contribute to the education of high school students; the team also hopes to help Stanford students who are facing financial pressure as a result of the virus. 

“People have lost jobs and are now struggling to pay for groceries, utilities, and rent,” said Tree Tutors Director of Business Development Kylie Holland ’21. “One student sent me a text from his mother’s landlord, threatening to remove them from their home that week, unless they came up with rent that he — up until campus closed —had been paying. A flexible, easy sign-up job like online tutoring is a godsend for many students struggling in the aftermath of the shutdowns.” 

“Stanford students also have more time being at home,” Martinez added. 

At the beginning of March, the team sent out a form to Stanford email lists to gauge student interest and areas of expertise. There were more than 200 responses, and respondents were added to a Slack channel to coordinate the interview and selection process. While conducting interviews, the team is also working to cement other aspects of their program, including registering Tree Tutors federally, setting up its payment software, and creating its website. 

According to the founders, one focus of Tree Tutors is making the platform accessible to students from under-resourced communities or low-income backgrounds. These students, Martinez said, might be particularly disadvantaged during the outbreak. 

“Many local tutoring agencies charge anywhere between $40 and $110 a session, especially for ACT/SAT tutoring,” Holland told The Daily. “These fees are beyond what most students can pay. Remote learning will exacerbate those education inequalities. Low-income students are more likely to have poor internet, fewer Zoom-capable devices and distractions than their wealthier peers.” 

As a result, Tree Tutors will provide discounts to students who qualify for the national free and reduced lunch program, and the team hopes to donate one free session to a student in need per every two hours of tutoring it provides to paying students. The current regular pricing ranges from $15 to $49 an hour based on the number of students being tutored at a time. 

Tree Tutors will start by focusing on high school students at both private and public schools in the Bay Area, but any student can fill out an enrollment form to request a session. Currently, the service is set to offer tutoring for every AP class, the SAT, college essays, all levels of math and several other subjects based on the expertise of the tutors. However, the creators also hope to offer free resources on the website, such as Khan Academy-style videos, advice on how to take advantage of high school resources and stories about Stanford experiences. Fischer described Tree Tutors’ service as a “hub of free resources produced by Stanford students that’ll range from [Stanford Pre-Orientation Trips] SPOT-style fun crash courses, to students sharing their failures, to physics lectures.” 

Students can access Tree Tutors through filling out an enrollment form on the website with the subject they want help in and the times that would work for them. Tutors are then matched with students based on knowledge and availability. 

“It’s essentially a referral service,” Martinez said. “Our tutors are getting paid individually, and we take a referral fee. We just want to limit the amount of work that busy Stanford students have to do themselves.” 

Though Tree Tutors was created in the wake of the pandemic, the team does have long-term goals for the business. 

“Our vision, though kickstarted by COVID-19, extends beyond the haze of spring,” Fischer said. “It’s a real need we’re seeing and feeling.”

Contact Sarina Deb at sdeb7 ‘at’

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