Siblings’ project matches tutors with young students

A brother-and-sister team is aiming to match university-student tutors with kindergarten to Grade 12 students who are trying to learn at home, after classes were cancelled as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Jasper Johnston and Aysha Emmerson, who attended St. Michaels University School and are now undergraduates at Harvard University, say university-aged participants provide “peer support” via an online platform such as Zoom.

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The plan is for university volunteers to commit at least three hours a week so they can build a working relationship with the students they are helping. Course work can range from academic subjects such as math and science to music, yoga and more.

“Our goal is to ease the burden on parents and educators in Victoria during the social-distancing requirements arising from the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Emmerson. Many parents are working at home and could find added learning time for their children helpful, she said.

The project has been dubbed Co-VID SSN, or Colloborative-Video Individualized Development Student Support Network.

It’s a non-profit organization, but families who are able are asked to make a small donation per teaching session to the Rapid Relief Fund. The fund, which is helping people in need during the pandemic, was established by the Jawl Foundation, the Victoria Foundation and the Times Colonist.

Johnston said the intent is for the project to help the community in a broader way through the fund, “because of the excellent work that it’s doing.”

He said he and Emmerson returned home from Harvard, based in Cambridge, Massachusetts, about three weeks ago and have been continuing their courses online.

“Harvard was one of the very first schools to send all of its students home in anticipation of social distancing,” he said. “We had five days to just pack up and leave, but we’re happy to be back in Victoria.”

Johnston said the siblings have been excited by the response to the Co-VID SSN project. “We initially put it out through our respective social media to try to get more university students at first, so that when we inevitably have lots of students sign up, we can meet that demand,” he said.

“We’ve had many potential peer supporters reach out, expressing their interest, and it’s been wonderful to see how this community is starting to coalesce.”

The pairing process with K-12 students is set to start this week, Johnston said.

Once a university student has been vetted, the team pairs him or her up with a family, then leaves it up to the family to set up meetings.

Johnston said the K-12 students coming forward are from a variety of public and private schools. “We’ve been fortunate that SMUS and some of the other schools have shared this information.”

Friends have also shared information about the service among doctors, he said. “We’d really love to help first responders and their families, in particular.”

Johnston said there will be regular “check-in” sessions with peer supporters to see how things are going.

The operation is set up so it can get bigger, although Johnston said the team doesn’t have any intention at this point of going beyond Victoria. “It really for us is a personal project and supporting our local community.”

For information on how to get involved, go to covidstudentsupportnetwork.org or send an email to covid.ssn@gmail.com.

jwbell@timescolonist.com

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