By Lilah McCormick
More than a billion. That’s the number of students who were locked out of school buildings worldwide this spring due to COVID-19. When Etienne and Noemi Reche-Ley saw those numbers rising, they knew they had to act.
In mid-March, the sisters launched Together, a program that offers free online tutoring for K-8 students in Seattle, their hometown. They believe in the right of all children to an education and in the power of students helping students, which is why their tutors are exclusively college and high school students.
“It’s just as much about supporting each other emotionally as it is about supporting each other academically during this time,” said Etienne, a rising sophomore at Stanford University. She and Noemi, a rising junior at The Bush School in Seattle, recognize that they have the resources to keep their education on track: computers, internet access, and professors and teachers willing to video conferencing. However, many public school students do not.
Their program pairs volunteer tutors with students based on common interests and subject expertise. So far, Together has recruited over 100 tutors and 50 returning students. Tutors come from the nation’s top high schools and collectively speak nine languages.
Tutors meet weekly with their students, and more as needed. Etienne and Noemi said responses from both sides have been heartening. One Seattle health-care worker with long shifts reached out to Together for French tutoring for her son. “The fact that we’re able to help someone like that who is just giving so much to the world and the community right now is really moving,” Etienne said.
The sisters are pleasantly surprised by the number of volunteers. Noemi, who at first doubted that enough people would want to help, said that after launching the website “I got tons of DMs [direct messages] from people I’ve barely ever talked to before saying ‘how do I sign up?’”
Looking forward, Etienne and Noemi hope to reach more students, in Seattle and possibly elsewhere. Expanding out of their hometown and familiar school system network will be a challenge, but one they are eager to pursue.