After running a successful pilot program in New York, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez's campaign has launched a virtual Homework Helpers program that could serve as a model for communities around the country.

By Maressa Brown
December 02, 2020
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All over the country, parents are increasingly overwhelmed and concerned about their kids falling behind in school as a result of the pandemic. A Pew Research Center survey from late October found that 7 in 10 parents whose children are getting online instruction—either fully or in combination with in-person learning—say they or another adult in their household is providing at least some additional instruction or resources to their children beyond what is being provided by the school. But with both time and energy in short supply, parents could use some assistance. And that's where a new tutoring program could come in.

Credit: The Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez for Congress Campaign

Late last month, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez's campaign formally launched a virtual Homework Helpers Program following a seven week-long pilot program that involved around 100 students from Throggs Neck, New York. The latest iteration of the program involves educators and volunteers from around the country who will provide students living in New York's 14th congressional district with one hour of free virtual homework help per week. 

Ocasio-Cortez explains that the program was conceived in response to the fact that "due to systemic inequities in our education system, working class families are especially struggling with virtual learning and homework." She explains, “It was important for our community to step in and do what we do best, which is to empower and organize local families and leverage our robust volunteer base."

Upon hearing parents lament the challenges of transitioning to remote learning, the campaign put out a call for people who had experience with tutoring. "The congresswoman has a huge network of empathetic, amazing volunteers, and we put out a call for people who had experience with tutoring, and we had 500 people who responded," says Jonathan Soto, political organizer for the AOC campaign.

The campaign then connected the homework helpers with local parent-teacher organizations that spread the word to parents whose kids could use extra support. Parents send in a photo of the homework their child needs help with and schedule a one-on-one one-hour session, which they're asked to chaperone, that takes place in a Zoom breakout room. The service is also available on an ongoing, weekly basis.

Soto notes that the program was designed to be accessible to students who might not have consistent access to certain technology. "We're very intentional about understanding a family's needs," explains Soto. "Technology is an issue for many. The digital divide is real in the Bronx. People are grateful that a tutor can call them up and help them with entering into the Zoom room or troubleshooting."

The campaign currently has 120 trained tutors and is recruiting more volunteers, specifically tutors who speak Spanish, Bangla, Urdu, Mandarin, Cantonese, Korean, French, and Kru, to be able to help the diverse constituencies in NY-14. Volunteers are supported and trained by experienced educators. Interested tutors can sign up via a Google form. With the new school closures, Team AOC has set a goal of serving 1,000 students for the 2020-2021 school year.

Ocasio-Cortez also hopes that the program might serve as a model that can be replicated across the country. The campaign is encouraging state and local lawmakers to consider a universal homework helpers program, much like universal pre-K. As Ocasio-Cortez notes, "As elected officials, we should step in to support our constituents when systems fail to do so."

But parents can also take the initiative to spearhead a local version of Homework Helpers themselves. "Anyone can do this," says Soto. "We encourage everyone—parents or high school students—to work with their PTAs to reach out to your local community. If you have 20 people who are willing to give one hour per week for four weeks, you'll be able to service an entire class."

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