Distance learning became the standard method of teaching when the coronavirus lock was enforced in mid-March. Students, who thought this was a short-term measure, were all excited about a longer spring break. It was reason for a party!
However, that tension subsided when the reality of long-term study at home became apparent that they lacked social interaction with friends, teacher guidance, and school board support. It also revealed a very fundamental problem that students found it difficult to keep up with their schoolwork.
Monish Muralicharan, 14, Sanjay Adhikesaven and Abyan Das, both 15-year-olds, who were then freshmen at Foothill High School in Pleasanton, were talking to a primary school parent who discovered that their child was having trouble understanding subjects and adapting to distance learning. That accidental discovery motivated them to take action, they would match these kids with the right teachers and set up an organization Sailors learn.
Their mandate is to provide the service free of charge to make it accessible to parents of all backgrounds whose primary and secondary school children require a tutor. They ensure that students are matched with teachers to suit their schedules, academic needs and areas of conflict. In addition, they offer extra-curricular classes to students interested in science, math, coding, and history.
While their parents are involved in re-sharing posts on Facebook and LinkedIn to spread the word, Monish, Sanjay and Abyan claim to jointly own Sailors Learning. They tell by e-mail who their brainchild was and why they called it that.
Sanjay begins. At the beginning of the quarantine we were all on the phone and thinking about tutoring. We understood that we were struggling with distance learning, so the struggle would be the same or even harder for primary school readers. We wanted to choose an interesting name and we thought Sailors was a cool name because it also stands for reaching new depths, and that’s what we want to do here at Sailors Learning. At first we had the idea to guide children to help them. However, we decided to create a platform so that other students can also become teachers, so that we can help more people.
We use tools such as Wix, Google Meets, Gmail and many other messaging sites, Monish describes. Since we are an online tutoring service, we use many different ways to communicate with our tutors and parents, usually via email. We use Google Meets as our main platform for extracurricular lessons. However, in one-on-one tutoring, the parent and tutor can choose to use other platforms such as Zoom. Wix is a big part of our success because we use it to create a great website. A website is the core of an online service and Wix helped us with that.
Monish continued, Currently we don’t have a supervisor because we wanted to have an independent non-profit organization like high school students. As for the curriculum, in our extracurricular classes we stray from the common core and basic topics taught in school. Having a teacher will not help as they would be looking for school related topics. The whole point of our group classes is to teach outside of the school so that the students who enroll sign up for things they want to learn, not things they need for school. For our one-on-one tutoring service, the tutor helps the student with everything they need, so there is no need to supervise the curriculum. As for the service itself, we only have qualified teachers, we have an interview process and we choose the best teachers. We have seen many other tutoring organizations where they accept everyone, but we wanted our students to learn the best quality. Finally, we are proud to have made this nonprofit independent of the ground.
And it was getting started that turned out to be the biggest challenge. Monish reveals that I think this is the first step for most businesses, nonprofits, and businesses, and the same is true for Sailors Learning. We had no previous experience of running anything so we struggled in the beginning. But soon we split the work into parts for each founder and we got to work and got to the point where we are now.
Sailors Learning currently has about 50 students and 17 teachers who have found them through word of mouth, Facebook, LinkedIn and friends. They are expanding and wanting to expand the tutor base because they plan to continue using their resources to help other children after distance learning has ended. They are thinking of expansion to help high school students.
Abyan adds, We are a non-profit organization, so that means that teachers receive volunteer hours. Sailors Learning offers coding, science, three levels of math, history, a book club, and we’re opening new classes for the summer, including technique and a creative writing course.
These sailors are regular teenagers. Monish likes to play clarinet, table tennis, chess, video games and take part in debate tournaments. In his spare time, he plays games, watches TV, practices and listens to music.
Monish teachers who code on Friday and science on Saturday. He explains: I love science because of the wide variety of topics and learning about the world. I like coding because it is fun to type words and solve a problem or make a game. I spend about two hours a day managing Sailors Learning on my other commitments. For tutoring, I spend three to four hours a week creating content and teaching.
When we started Sailors Learning, we didn’t think about volunteer hours, we just wanted to help children. That has been worthwhile for me. First, I get to run a nonprofit with my friends and it has strengthened my relationships with them. Second, I love teaching children specific science and coding. Finally, the most important thing is how we all create a platform for not only children to learn, but also teachers to teach.
College is not far from Monish’s mind, he wants to reach Berkeley, UCLA or Stanford.
Sanjay, like Monish, considers playing games and table tennis to be his main interests. In his spare time, he goes for a walk or takes part in debate tournaments. He spends two to three hours a day on the management part of the organization and about three hours a week tutoring and making coding and history lessons.
In addition to what Monish said, Sanjay says, there were a few challenges we faced. First, there was the nonprofit application process, which was new to us as this was the first time we created a nonprofit. Second, we saw the problems that may arise, such as that a tutor is not available and must find a replacement.
I think Sailors Learning has helped me in many ways. I developed better relationships with my friends. And while I enjoy tutoring, I also enjoy creating this platform for students and educators, which can reach a much wider reach, Sanjay concludes.
He plans to pursue something STEM-related in college and has looked at schools he might apply for.
Abyan spends two hours a day to improve the organization he co-founded. He also teaches three to four hours of extracurricular group history lessons once a week. His hobbies are soccer, tennis and debate. If he has some free time, he will play video games, read or participate in the debate. The chief marketer for ‘Sailors Learning’, he is looking for marketing or business and hopes to go to a UC university. In addition to the early challenge of filing for a nonprofit, he says it’s discouraging to make their name known in the world.
I don’t get anything out of Sailors Learning, other than spreading learning, Abyan says. The whole goal of this organization was to help children learn, especially now thanks to COVID-19. However, we want to make it a long-term plan and continue to help children.
It doesn’t matter that they live in Pleasanton, California, they enjoy teaching kids in all the markets they can reach. As they emphasize, education is education and should not be limited to the local environment. And since it’s all done online, it doesn’t matter if the student lives 350 miles away.
Monish, Sanjay, and Abyan want Sailors Learning to be a long-term effort, and perhaps that desire Los Angeles and San Diego USD announced this week that campuses will not reopen this fall and distance learning will continue for the foreseeable future. More teachers, no less, will be needed and will be highly appreciated by all students struggling with their courses.
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