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“A service for the 99 percent.” New nonprofit aims to bridge academic access gaps through the pandemic

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In the wake of the COVID-19 public health crisis, a new Madison-based nonprofit startup is working to bridge the widening achievement gap due to the current global pandemic. 

On September 14, Pandemic Learning Tutors service,  launched its tutoring service and has already begun recruiting and working with students in Dane county.

Pandemic Learning Tutors offers a variety of educational services including tutoring for K-12 students in core courses like science, math, English and history, as well as college prep and leadership training for high school students.

Pandemic Learning Tutors’ staff is composed of college students from around the country — Harvard, UC Berkeley, Tufts and more — who all have a background in tutoring. All services are currently taking place online, so the tutors can help out from anywhere in the world.

Madison native and Harvard student Kristin King, Pandemic Learning Tutors’ founder and president, says her goal is to make academic assistance accessible for all, especially low-income students and students of color whose access to resources has only gotten more difficult through the pandemic.

“I recently have become very frustrated with the discrepancies in our public schools in high- and low-income areas,” King said. “I was inspired to try to do something to help out these teachers and help provide extra resources to these students who wouldn’t otherwise have them.”

According to the United census Bureau, 4.4 million students lack consistent access to a computer, and 3.7 million lack internet access. This lack of access disproportionately affects students of color, with one in three students lacking high-speed home internet, according to a study by Alliance for Excellent Education, the National Indian Education Association, the National Urban League, and UnidosUS.

King noted that one of the largest problems with equity in education is wealth. Low-income students are not able to afford the expenses of other tutoring companies. As such, Pandemic Learning Tutors offers greatly reduced prices to their clients. 

“We have a very flexible financial aid policy,” King said. “But if a student demonstrates need, our services are free.”

Pandemic Learning Tutors also provides college counseling services in order to mitigate some of the costs counseling can produce. There are many fees associated with applying to college from application fees to required payments to send AP and SAT/ACT scores. Knowing this, Pandemic Learning Tutors aims to keep prices low so that money that would go to a tutor, can instead be used for these various expenses. 

“We’re trying to provide a service for the 99 percent,” said King.

So far, Pandemic Learning Tutors, having just launched in working on expanding their client base but already have a few clients. 

Kris Bernhardt, the mother of a student who has used the services, explained that Pandemic Learning Tutors helped her son tremendously.

“[Kristin King] was easy to understand and easy to talk to and it was all good,” said Bernhardt. “It’s a great service.”

The tutoring service also has taken measures to provide accommodations for students with various disabilities. Many of the tutors themselves have learning disabilities or have been trained to work with students with a variety of learning disabilities. King notes that it is essential that her tutors are trained to provide holistic and accommodating service to their students who may have trouble with traditional learning tactics.

King herself has been diagnosed with ADHD and therefore works with students with the same and similar disabilities. She noted that the skills that help students with ADHD can also work for dyslexic and autistic students.

“We are run by folks with learning disabilities … and I’m working with my tutors, and looking at bringing in other tutors who have specific work, and work history with other learning disabilities so that we can really diversify what we can offer in that realm,” said King.

Specialized services are also extended to English language learners. Five out of the eight teachers, including King herself, speak Spanish. 

Beyond tutoring services, Pandemic Learning Tutors is also willing to provide students with school supplies and even laptops if the need arises.

Pandemic Learning Tutors is also currently partnering with many local organizations including Urban Triage as well as many LGBTQ+ organizations such as OutReach, LBGT Chamber of Commerce, and OPEN to increase their client base and gain community support.

“We want to develop the next generation of skilled leaders, and we’re constantly working to improve upon what we can offer, and what education is lacking,” King said.