Ankitha Kumar, 17, of Inver Grove Heights, Minnesota, a senior at Eagan High School, started a free online tutoring service after the COVID-19 pandemic halted her in-person tutoring sessions, a service that has now expanded to encompass 17 volunteer tutors and more than 300 students across the United States and overseas. For three years prior to the pandemic, Ankitha had tutored children at the Good Neighbor Center, a facility that provides underserved youth with a meal and a safe space for academic support. But in March of 2020, the center had to close temporarily because of the virus. “A lot of the kids would text me and say they had 15 assignments missing already and they needed help,” said Ankitha. So she called the center director and offered to begin tutoring online.
With the help of a few friends, Ankitha set up a website to connect students with a free tutor. As demand for her “ConneXions” service grew, she recruited and trained more tutors, and created individualized lesson plans in core subjects as well as in computer science, foreign languages, public speaking and ACT preparation. To amplify her impact, she asked teachers in 12 school districts in Minnesota to identify students who might benefit from extra help. Ankitha estimates that she and her fellow tutors have now logged more than 1,500 hours tutoring kids from nearly all 50 states and 12 foreign countries. Test scores for ConneXions students have increased by more than 30 percent, Ankitha said, but the most important outcome has been a boost in student confidence. “Students who thought they could never be good at math now believe they can achieve anything they set their minds to,” she said. “Students who thought they could never graduate high school are now on track to be first-generation college students.”