Friday, August 12, 2022

Adrija Chakrabarti: Providing free tutorial to those in need

By Petrina D'Souza, 28 Jan, 2021
  • Adrija Chakrabarti: Providing free tutorial to those in need

The UBC student is the co-founder and director of Mentoring the Stars Foundation, a student-led non-profit that provides high quality, no-cost academic support, and leadership opportunities for BC youth.

While COVID-19 got most of us staying indoors and using virtual platforms for our work and other needs, a young UBC student utilized that time to help tutor kids. Adrija Chakrabarti is the co-founder and director of Mentoring the Stars Foundation. The student-led non-profit organization’s mission is to provide high-quality, no-cost tutoring for any British Columbian family that seeks it, as well as providing volunteering opportunities to older students and recent university graduates. “Our service includes tutoring in any school subject and is inclusive to all families regardless of language barriers and learning disabilities/accommodations required by a student,” says Chakrabarti, a fourth-year Behavioural Neuroscience student at UBC. The other co-founders of the organization are Jennifer Lo and Kassandra Heilbron.

The tutorial idea originally stemmed from a similar initiative in UCLA (Lo’s university) during that time called “Tutoring for Heroes,” that focused on providing free tutoring for families of healthcare workers. The co-founders wanted the Lower Mainland/BC to also have the option for a service that was open to all families. “We believed that any family should be able to sign up, given the hardships presented to everyone during this time - especially for parents of children with learning disabilities trying to learn online, those experiencing financial struggles to afford quality tutoring, and students learning special subjects such as French, where it is hard for parents to administer the content to their kids if they are not already acquainted with the subject,” shares Chakrabarti.

The process is quite simple. All families and potential volunteer tutors, referred to as “mentors,” are required to fill out an online form to register with the service indicating their background, needs and availability. All of the volunteers are then required to complete a criminal record check and undergo an interview, as well as review of their past tutoring experience. There is a dedicated recruitment team who ensures that each mentor and family is properly matched to one another. “For example, if a family requests to have a mentor for their child who is also able to speak another language, such as Mandarin or Punjabi, to ease communication with parents, we will fulfill that request and pair their child accordingly,” explains Chakrabarti. The Foundation also has mentors specialized in learning disabilities and French immersion. 

The commonly used platform is Zoom, though families and mentors are welcome to use whatever remote platform they are comfortable with. “The service is open to any elementary or high school student from BC of any grade level/subject/age! We teach whatever subjects we have available mentors for, and have our volunteer registration open to any volunteer proficient in any K-12 school subject. Currently our most popular subjects are Math, English, and French,” informs Chakrabarti. Volunteers can also participate by taking on administrative tasks like assisting with developing resources for other tutors, among others. 

Currently they have 187 tutors and 379 students participating in the service, and are administering over 500 hours of free tutoring per week to the community since the inception of the program in March 2020. Chakrabarti reports that “collectively we have delivered over 8,000 hours of tutoring, mostly concentrated throughout the Lower Mainland region but also have participants from Vancouver Island and rural communities in BC as well.” The initiative has received lots of positive feedback from parents, students and educators. The “A Project” by UBC Alumni, which is aimed at providing local volunteer opportunities to UBC graduates, recently reached out to the Foundation for a partnership. “We have also received funding from the Canada Service Corps “Taking it Global” federal grant program and we are a Google for Non-Profits partner,” discloses Chakrabarti.

The co-founders plan to continue with the service into the future as they have realized that the concept of virtual no-cost tutoring is quite appealing to people, putting the pandemic aside. “We strive to become a widely known resource available for all British Columbian families and will continue to expand our program hoping to one day reach every corner of our province, and also putting a greater focus on targeting marginalized communities that would appreciate the service, such as lower-income neighbourhoods like the Downtown Eastside, as well as Indigenous groups,” says Chakrabarti in conclusion.

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