Rutgers students start virtual assistance program for K-12 kids

Duo expand educational resources through Backpack Tutoring

Let’s start an organization.

Alaya Gutha texted those words to her friend Yashavani Dhawan last year, after the two were sent home from the Rutgers University campus to continue their educations online. 

A year later, the two rising juniors are founders of Backpack Tutoring, a 501c nonprofit for students in kindergarten through 12th grade who need virtual assistance.

“I was so excited to be sent home to remote learning, because this is something that I’ve been wanting to work on for a while,” Gutha explained. “With COVID, it seemed like the perfect time.” 

This year, the two women collaborated on a program that features a variety of learning methods and networks with college students, who would be volunteer tutors. 

Both Gutha and Dhawan have a strong passion for education. Gutha minors in education and Dhawan, a 2019 Lenape High School graduate, spent the majority of her high-school career tutoring middle school students.   

Backpack Tutoring specializes in college readiness, such as placement exams, but also focuses on all subjects — like chemistry, history or algebra — to reach students of all ages. 

According to its mission statement, the program is meant to support the education of students through free, personalized tutoring and online resources, one being multiple platforms to find information on school subjects through a content curation designed by board members.  

“We decided to create smaller videos that tend to be like a minute to two minutes long, and they tend to focus on one or two questions,” Gutha noted. “The worksheets are derivatives of those, and we tend to link our videos and our worksheets together.”

On the Backpack Tutoring website, if students don’t feel comfortable reaching out to a tutor, they can go to the resource tab, where they will find a list of subjects and links on helpful websites and software to assist on a topic, like Khan Academy.

Any student from around the world can sign up for a virtual session through the tutoring website, where they’ll fill out a Google Form. It will ask a variety of questions regarding grade level, the school topic for which help is needed, the goal of seeking help (for a final exam or homework assignment, for example) and the student’s availability. 

That information will help Dhawan, who assigns all tutors to their tutee, distinguishes which qualified tutor is best, and determines if he or she is available to help a student for an hour. 

All tutors are volunteer students enrolled at a university. Students who apply for classes in a niche subject, such as STEM, have to undergo technical interviews on their ability to explain the subject.  

Thus far, the college students who’ve participated have heard positive feedback from the tutees and their parents on exam preparation and homework compilation, Dhawan said. 

“One family all the way from, like, the West Coast, we’ve been able to pair them with a tutor who’s okay with the time difference,” Gutha offered. “We’ve been getting students from like, Camden (County Resource Net), and a lot of it has been coming from word of mouth.”

High schools and other universities can start a Backpack Tutoring chapter at their schools by following the guidelines of creating a board and three committees.

“We’re focusing on partnering with Big 10 schools,” Gutha revealed. “A lot of state schools we’ve decided to reach out to, but right now, we received an email from the University of Maryland.”

On top of extending Backpack Tutoring to other schools, Gutha and Dhawan, as executive and vice executive chair, are working to expand their awareness to underserved communities. 

“It’s really hard to get your name out there when you’re a social organization… You don’t have, like, a reputation yet,” Gutha said. “The biggest challenge has been being able to reach the communities and the students who need the help the most.”

Both Gutha and Dhawan are from immigrant families and are first generation Americans. Even after they obtain undergraduate degrees, the two plan to continue Backpack Tutoring as an opportunity for students to receive the proper resources they deserve.

“I think COVID-19 is, it’s an issue on its own, but also, it’s managed to exacerbate a lot of preexisting issues with not only our education system, but everywhere,” Gutha noted. “We can help out by offering tutoring to children. We want to help these communities.”

Interested in Backpack Tutoring? Go to https://sites.google.com/view/backpacktutoring-nj/home?authuser=0 for more information.