Remote learning became the default method of delivering teaching when the coronavirus lockdown was enforced in mid-March. Students, who thought this was a short-term measure, were all excited to get an extended spring break. It was cause for celebration!
However, that thrill wore off as the reality of studying from home for an extended period of time became apparent – they missed social interaction with friends, guidance from teachers, and support from school administrators. It also brought to light a very basic problem – students were having a hard time keeping up with their classwork.
Monish Muralicharan, 14 years old, Sanjay Adhikesaven, and Abyan Das, both 15-year-olds, who were then freshmen at Foothill High School in Pleasanton, were talking with a parent of an elementary schooler who found out that their child was having trouble grasping topics and adjusting to distance learning. That chance discovery mobilized them to take action – they were going to match these children with appropriate tutors and founded an organization called ‘Sailors Learning.’
Their mandate is to provide the service free of charge to make it accessible to parents of all backgrounds whose elementary- and middle-school children need a tutor. They ensure students are matched with tutors who fit their schedules, academic needs, and areas of struggle. Additionally, they offer extra-curricular classes to students interested in science, math, coding, and history.
While their parents are involved in a small capacity – re-sharing posts on Facebook and LinkedIn to spread the word – Monish, Sanjay, and Abyan claim joint ownership of ‘Sailors Learning.’ Via email, they relate whose brainchild it was and why they named it such.
Sanjay begins, “At the beginning of quarantine, we all were on a call and thought of providing tutoring. We understood we were struggling in distance learning so the struggles would be the same or even harder for elementary schoolers. We wanted to pick an interesting name, and we thought ‘Sailors’ was a cool name because it also represents reaching new depths, which is what we want to do here at ‘Sailors Learning.’ At first, we had the idea for us to tutor children to help them out. However, we decided to make a platform to allow other students to also be tutors so we can help more people.”
“We are using tools such as Wix, Google Meets, Gmail and many other messaging sites,” Monish describes. “Since we are an online tutoring service, we use many different ways to communicate with our tutors and parents which is mostly email. We use Google Meets as our main platform for extracurricular classes. However, in one-on-one tutoring, the parent and tutor can choose to use other platforms such as Zoom. Wix has been a big part to our success as we use it to make a great website. A website is a core to having an online service and Wix has helped us make that possible.”
Continues Monish, “Currently, we do not have a supervisor because we wanted to have an independent nonprofit as high schoolers. As for curriculum, in our extracurricular classes we stray away from the common core and basic topics taught in school. Having a teacher will not help as they would be looking for school-related topics. The whole point of our group classes is to teach out of school subjects, that way the students who enroll are signing up for things they want to learn, not things they need for school. For our one-on-one tutoring service, the tutor helps the student with whatever they need, so the curriculum does not need to be supervised. As for the service itself, we only have qualified tutors – we have an interview process and we pick the best teachers. We have seen many other tutoring organizations where they accept anyone but we wanted our students to have the best quality learning. Finally, we pride ourselves on creating this nonprofit from the ground independently.”
And it was getting started that proved to be the greatest challenge. Monish discloses, “I believe that for most businesses, nonprofits, and companies that is the first step, and the same is true for ‘Sailors Learning.’ We had no previous experience running anything so we struggled at the start. But soon we split the work up into parts for each founder and we got going and led to the point where we are now.”
‘Sailors Learning’ currently has about 50 students and 17 tutors they found through word of mouth, Facebook, LinkedIn, and friends. They’re growing the tutor base and looking to expand it further as they plan on continuing to use their resources to help other children after remote learning is lifted. They are thinking of expanding to help high schoolers as well.
Abyan supplements, “We are a nonprofit organization so that means that tutors will receive volunteer hours. ‘Sailors Learning’ offers coding, science, three levels for math, history, a book club, and we are opening new classes for summer including engineering and a creative writing class.”
These ‘sailors’ are regular teenagers. Monish enjoys playing the clarinet, table tennis, chess, video games, and participating in debate tournaments. In his free time, he plays games, watches TV, exercises, and listens to music.
Monish tutors coding on Fridays and science on Saturdays. He explains, “I love science because of the wide variety of subjects and learning about the world. I love coding because it is fun to type words and solve a problem or create a game. I allocate about two hours a day managing ‘Sailors Learning’ over my other commitments. For tutoring, I spend three to four hours a week creating content and teaching.
“We didn’t think about volunteer hours when we started ‘Sailors Learning’ – we just wanted to help children. That, for me, has been rewarding. First, I get to run a nonprofit with my friends and it has strengthened my relations with them. Second, I love to tutor children in specifically science and coding. Finally, the most important is how we all make a platform for not only children to learn but for tutors to teach.”
College isn’t too far off Monish’s mind – he’s aiming to get into either Berkeley, UCLA, or Stanford.
Sanjay, like Monish, counts playing games and table tennis as his major interests. In his free time he goes on walks or participates in debate tournaments. He spends two to three hours a day working on the management part of the organization and about three hours a week tutoring and creating classes in coding and history.
Adding to what Monish mentioned, Sanjay says, “There were a few challenges that we encountered. First, there was the nonprofit application process, which was new to us since this was the first time we created a nonprofit. Second, we saw the problems that can arise, such as a tutor not being available and having to find a substitute.”
“I think ‘Sailors Learning’ has helped me in many ways. I developed better relationships with my friends. And while I like to tutor, I also enjoy making this platform for students and teachers, which can reach a much broader scope,” concludes Sanjay.
He plans to pursue something STEM-related in college, and has looked into schools he could possibly apply to.
Abyan allots two hours a day working to improve the organization he co-founded. He also tutors the extra-curricular history group class once a week for three to four hours. His hobbies are soccer, tennis, and debate. When he has a bit of free time, he plays video games, reads, or participates in debate. The head marketer for ‘Sailors Learning,’ he is looking to pursue marketing or business and hopes to get into a UC college. Besides the early challenge of filing for a nonprofit, he says getting their name out in the world has proven to be daunting.
“I don’t get anything out of ‘Sailors Learning’ except spreading learning,” expresses Abyan. “The whole point of this organization was to help children learn, especially now due to COVID-19. However, we want to make this a long-term plan and continue helping children.”
It doesn’t matter that they live in Pleasanton, California – they are happy to tutor kids in all the markets they can reach. As they emphatically point out “Education is education and shouldn’t be limited to the local area.” And since it’s all done online, it doesn’t matter if the student lives 350 miles away.
Monish, Sanjay, and Abyan would like ‘Sailors Learning’ to be a long-term endeavor and they might have that wish granted – Los Angeles and San Diego USD announced this week that campuses will not reopen this fall and remote learning will continue into the foreseeable future. More tutors, not fewer, will be needed and will be greatly appreciated by all students struggling with their coursework.