Learn To Be: Tutoring to Make a Difference
During the school year, Chuks Ugori ’23 started providing online math tutoring for a fourth grader in Florida. The two meet once a week for about an hour, and it’s a relationship that is continuing this summer despite the time difference (Ugori lives in Dhahran, Saudi Arabia, and is spending part of his summer in Nigeria).
“What attracted me to the tutoring was the fact that it was for people who didn’t necessarily have the financial ability to go out and pay for it,” says Ugori.
Ugori tutors through a program called Learn To Be, a nonprofit that offers free, one-on-one tutoring to underserved youth across the U.S. He connected with this program through Mercersburg’s Community Engagement program and Emily Parsons P ’21, ’22, ’26, the Academy’s director of community engagement and a history faculty member. When in-person tutoring was not an option due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Parsons looked for other options.
“I wanted to find an online platform that could provide a tutoring option for students who really wanted to connect with our local students and provide tutoring services,” says Parsons. “Originally, the goal was to identify local students who could benefit from tutoring, but we ended up finding connections nationally.”
In Mercersburg’s inaugural year working with Learn To Be, 16 students went through the training process to be tutors, and Parsons is interested to see how Mercersburg’s involvement evolves in future years. “I hope that we can keep this program going next year while renewing our in-person tutoring at Mercersburg Elementary School,” she says. This tutoring opportunity is open to any student—not just those participating in the Community Engagement performance group activity—and several of the students, like Ugori, have forged strong relationships.
“The fact that I was able to help [my student] was the most fulfilling for me,” says Ugori. “His mom told me that he went from having D’s and C’s to A’s and B’s, so that was really fulfilling for me.”
Ugori remembers the awkward first online meetings where his student was very quiet. “The first time was hard because he just didn’t want to talk at all,” says Ugori. “Even though he is a really talkative person, I wouldn’t have guessed that from the first time we met.” Luckily, his tutee wore a sweatshirt with an anime character on the front. Ugori commented on it, and the two bonded over their shared anime interests.
Now, tutoring sessions are much livelier, and Ugori navigates other hurdles: “Because the person is in fourth grade, sometimes his mind wanders. So, figuring out when to engage in the wandering that he is doing but then also knowing when to step back and say, ‘Okay, we have to actually learn,’ has been challenging sometimes.”
Through his tutoring sessions, Ugori has figured out how to probe to find out if his tutee has really learned the material or if they need to practice material more, and he purposefully finds new and engaging ways to demonstrate skills.
“I always learned that you shouldn’t learn something in just one way, so sometimes if [my student] has a certain strategy he learned in class, I might introduce him to something a little more creative counting-wise or whatever it is,” says Ugori. “I like to use pictures too if I can, or charts—more engaging activities where he doesn’t have to do hardcore arithmetic or something that is standard for everybody because I find I didn’t learn best that way. If he doesn’t understand one method, I will find another way to explain it or look up another strategy because I think he’ll eventually find something that works for him, which we continue building on.”
After several months as a Learn To Be tutor, Ugori recommends the program to others if they recognize the responsibility associated with it, and he says tutors can opt out or switch tutees if the relationship is not working. The goal is to ensure tutors and tutees are well matched for each other.
Parsons adds, “Learn To Be has been a great partner for us. I’m also really proud of the students who took a chance on this new program this year. I wasn’t sure how it would work, and for some, it was a frustrating process. For those who found a good match, it’s been a rewarding experience.”