Psst, can you solve for x? 3x+5 = 8

A little rusty? You’re not alone. At Students Helping Students Seattle, the No. 1 request for tutoring assistance is math, especially algebra.

Logan Spoonemore, a junior at The Northwest School (a private school on First Hill), recruited a group of some 70 Seattle-area high school volunteers to tutor elementary and middle school kids. The high schoolers can cover anything from reading stories to younger students just to give their parents a little break, all the way up to homework help for Algebra 2.

Parents can sign up for free online tutoring on the SHSS website, studentshelpingstudentsseattle.com, and Spoonemore will match kids to a volunteer tutor. Lessons can take place over virtual conferencing like Zoom, Teams, FaceTime or even email, phone and text. So far, about 50 kids have been matched with tutors.

Spoonemore started the group in response to the coronavirus school shutdown: teachers doing their best adjusting to online teaching, some students falling behind, parents stressed out. She built the site herself, on Squarespace, and launched it April 28. The program will continue through the summer and into the next school year.

“With respect to this summer, our goal is to catch students up who may be behind grade level given the challenges with remote learning,” said Spoonemore, who lives in Queen Anne. “It is my hope that even after the COVID-19 situation has resolved, we will continue to help students. Although this project was born out of a crisis, I think it fulfills a need that transcends the current situation.”

Spoonemore sent out a long email explaining what she was trying to do, and teachers at her school were happy to help. Marcel Feseha, who is also a junior at The Northwest School, heard about the tutoring gig through his humanities teacher. “This was a great way to give back to the community and help out,” said Feseha, who lives in West Seattle. “I feel like especially with this quarantine, I can always find time. Especially for an important thing like this.”

Marcel Feseha, a junior at The Northwest School, volunteers to tutor kids through Students Helping Students Seattle. (Courtesy of Marcel Feseha)
Marcel Feseha, a junior at The Northwest School, volunteers to tutor kids through Students Helping Students Seattle. (Courtesy of Marcel Feseha)

His first student had trouble with math, so they worked on some practice equations that got progressively harder.

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“By the end I thought she was getting pretty good,” Feseha said. “It was pretty simple math, but for a middle schooler, that’s when they’re first being introduced to it.”

Feseha’s favorite subject is math — he’ll be taking calculus and statistics in the fall — and he’s thinking about going into finance or business. He credits an enrichment program he did in sixth grade with helping him get ahead academically. “It opened a lot of doors for me and I plan to open as many doors as I can for students who need it,” he said. “I felt like I had to use my privilege to help people who are currently under a tough time being placed out of school.”

Ballard mom Priya Helweg signed her fifth grade daughter up for Spanish tutoring because the middle school where she starts in the fall offers a Spanish immersion program and the language is completely new to her. Helweg met with the tutor (Lakeside junior Holand Dennis) over FaceTime first — “Delightful and smart, just a bright, lovely young woman” — and linked Dennis up with her daughter. For Helweg, the informal 20-minute FaceTime sessions weren’t just about conversational Spanish, it was a way for her 11-year-old to meet a high school girl, someone new and closer to her in age.

“With everything that is going on, for a child isolated at home, a connection outside the family is helpful in many ways,” said Helweg, who has been taking sheltering in place very seriously with her family. “Right now, I think the best thing that one can do is to make those connections, have another voice, another person to talk to outside our small, little contained group.”

The biggest challenge in middle school, she’s heard from friends with older kids, is simply organizing. When you’ve got five different teachers who use five different systems, kids struggle more with keeping it all straight than the actual learning part.

“With these high school students, even if they’re not teachers per se, a lot of parents would be happy to find a smart 16-year-old to help their child create a file to put things in once a week,” Helweg said. “I think Logan is really onto something. It’s not just, ‘Oh, we need a tutor.’ It’s more about community, and being helpful to young kids.”