Name: The Gift of Learning
Location: Fairfax, Virginia, United States
Year Founded: 2020
Tell me about your launch story; how did your organization get started?
Initially, we all volunteered at an organization that also provided education to young children through online tutoring. This organization was fully stem-based, so it only offered Math, Science, and Computer Science courses. However, soon that organization stopped making their services free and charged the students a monthly fee, that would go towards the renovations of their building, for getting tutored. This completely baffled us, because this completely went against our beliefs. The whole point of us volunteering there was so that we could improve a child’s education without expecting anything in return. That night, one of our founders, Arya Nalavade, texted us “this might be a crazy idea, but what if we started our own tutoring service? It would be completely free and we could offer more courses”. All of us were instantly intrigued, and we immediately started discussing the details. At last, on Monday, May 25th, The Gift of Learning was born.
What challenges did you face, if any, while launching?
Since we were completely new to this, we had a lot of trial and error in the process. One of the major issues we had was getting students. Since all of the tutors were around our age, it was easy to reach out to them and convince them to join our organization. The audience of our Instagram account was also mainly teenagers. We watched the number of our tutors go up, and the students remained the same. Soon we realized that our advertising techniques need to be improved. We came together and arrived at a solution that we should advertise through our parents’ social platforms. We started posting on Next Door, a neighborhood connections app, and Facebook, where the audience was mostly parents. From there, the number of students finally began to grow! We started our first round of tutoring and it was a success! In our first Round, we had around 100 tutors and 170 students. However soon we realized that although we were able to reach our organization out to parents, most of the students that were getting tutored didn’t really need the help, they just wanted extra preparation before the school year started. While we were happy to provide this service to them, we wanted to reach more students who were genuinely struggling in school and cannot afford tutoring services. As a result of this, we realized that the only way we can reach out to these families is through their child’s school counselor. We began emailing the counselors of our local elementary schools, and we were glad that we were finally able to make a significant impact on a child’s education.
Tell me about its mission/goals and the primary populations you serve?
Putting it simply, we are working toward closing the educational gap between low-income/minority students and the privileged students. It is not something new that low-income and minority students do not receive the same top-notch education as the wealthy and those from certain communities. When asked why there have been many responses such “It’s not their culture to work hard and they are less deserving” or “some students are just not naturally gifted”. Although FCPS, the county in which our Founders reside in, is regarded as one of the country’s top school districts with more than 92% of students planning to pursue education after high school.
We never truly take the time to think about the students in low-income and minority areas, hidden by the shadows of the affluent and privileged. It has always been drilled in our heads that smarter kids should get challenging work while the rest go at a slower pace. In fact, it does make sense. It’s hard to see anything wrong with that system, especially if you’ve grown up in the system, where separation began as early as 2nd grade. At that age, we were all the product of our parents’ wealth and time. The cognitive tests administered in 1st and 2nd grade measured not the natural giftedness you had, but the quality of resources your family invested in you at a young age. If they were able to buy tutors and prep books to prepare their children for these tests. Many low-income and minority students simply did not have the same degree of resources invested in them and therefore were underrepresented in these programs. The results were obvious, a typical case of equality v.s equity. Students who had access to these resources kept getting smarter, while the other students slowly threaded along.
To decrease this educational gap, we founded The Gift of Learning. Our goal is to pass on the information we have already learned and use it to help students who need help on it for free. We provide tutoring and one-time help as well. We offer tutoring in Math, Science, Social Studies, English, Computer Science, and Art. We run on a volunteer basis, which makes our tutors even more dedicated to their students! Additionally, we are currently working on our project Bhutan. Due to the crisis in Bhutan, many of the Bhutanese people were provided asylum by the US Government and settled in various parts of the US. However, many of these child refugees have not received the proper education and are finding it difficult to adapt to this huge cultural shift. We believe that education is priceless. It should be a basic right, not a privilege. It shouldn’t come with a price tag. By making our service free, students will have better access to education. This was the motive behind our Project Bhutan. By giving each of these children a tutor they can bridge the gap in their academic knowledge, but also build a social bond. After their eight week sessions, our students don’t consider them simply as their teachers. They consider them their partner, mentor, and friend.
What does your organization do best?
These days, children aren’t that interested in their education. School is portrayed as this horrid environment that parents force upon their kids. At the Gift of Learning, we push past these portrayals and beliefs. With our dedicated tutors, we make learning positive! Our tutors go beyond what is taught at a classroom level and customize the curriculum to make sessions significantly more interesting. Since the tutors are still in school, either high school or college, they know what it is like to struggle on assignments and tests, and can offer more helpful strategies than the ones students will find in their textbooks at school. Through this, they will make learning more enjoyable and change the portrayals of it.
What are you working to improve?
We are actively working on reaching out to underprivileged families. Since we do not have a lot of contacts it has been difficult reaching out to them. Reaching out to these families is really important to us because so far we have only been able to reach out to families who have children who need help with a particular subject. While we are more than happy to help their children, we know that they are more than able to afford paid tutoring services.
What does collaboration over competition mean to you?
For many years individuals have considered intellect a ranking, the smarter you are the more respect you deserve. Somehow society had led everyone to believe that having a higher IQ or better grades than others matters, and makes an individual more valuable and worthy. This often made students, who were struggling in school, feel inferior. Additionally, they were reluctant towards asking for help. And through this, without a guiding hand, many struggling students eventually began distancing themselves further and further from education. We believe that education and academics are not competition. It should not be about who is the smartest or gets the most As. At The Gift of Learning, we believe that everyone has something to offer. Let’s use this as an opportunity to share our gifts with others and show students the real value of education because competition will only tear us all apart.
Final words of wisdom to all the young women out there who are strategizing to reach their education and career goals?
First of all, you must start early. Create a plan of what it is you want to do and execute it. Whatever you say you are going to do tomorrow, do it today. There is no better time than the present, and procrastination is going to be your number one enemy. You will need to have patience and you are going to need to accept that the road to success is definitely going to be a bumpy one. You might hit a few potholes, but you need to keep in mind what your why you are doing what you are doing. In the end, your hard work will pay off.
How can our readers reach you to get involved or learn more?
We are currently working on setting up a donation page on our website! All proceeds will go directly towards funding the food and housing for the Bhutanese refugees or towards a local charity/organization, but we are still working out all the details for that. Till then, readers can get involved by registering as tutors! Our registration forms for tutors are always open, but registrants may be put on a waitlist until a spot opens up! Additionally, if readers know of anyone who is genuinely in need of academic help, please feel free to give him/her our contact information. Readers can also find more information on our website and social platforms!
Apply as a tutor: https://forms.gle/RNUfv8cLDUXxxUXA7
Apply as a student (grades 1-10): https://forms.gle/re1CFF2wjXZWULYx7
Our Social Platforms: https://linktr.ee/spreadingthegiftoflearning