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Young Mensans Create Free Online Tutoring Service

Following school closings, Orlando Student Tutoring started connecting kids from across the country with tutors based on their needs

Composite: Young Mensans Max Boger and Nicole Ward superimposed over a collage

Mensans are known for being passionate problem-solvers. And here’s the great thing about problem solvers: Sometimes they solve other people’s problems.

Florida Young Mensans Max Boger and Nicole Ward exemplify this pairing of ingenuity with generosity. In March, they founded Orlando Student Tutoring, an organization of volunteers with students nationwide to help other students cope with the challenges of distance learning and connect those that need a little extra support.

When their school closed its doors in March due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Max and Nicole, like many kids, scrambled to adjust to a virtual-first learning environment. As they did, they considered other kids facing the same obstacles. It was clear the pandemic would have immediate and lasting effects on how students learn, and they wanted to do something about it.

So, they reached out to their classmates: Who can volunteer their time to connect with other students in need of a virtual tutor? The result: Orlando Student Tutoring.

Since launching the website, they’ve received countless requests for tutoring sessions from children and teens across Florida and, indeed, across the country. We sat down (virtually) and spoke with them about joining Mensa, what it’s been like to experience a pandemic as a teenager, and why they decided to create Orlando Student Tutoring.

How have school closures impacted you and your family? And what has been the most difficult part about not finishing the school year at LHPS?

Nicole: I think the most difficult part is managing my time. All classes have assignments, but it’s just more about managing my assignments, studying for my exams, getting everything in on time, and keeping track. I have a calendar and I write out when my assignments are due so that I know because I used to not be very good with checking the weekly agenda or checking my calendar. For my family, I’d say it’s been great. I’ve been spending a lot of time with my sister who’s at college. I love having her here.

Max: It got us around the table more often because a lot of us were busy with extracurriculars. My mom and my dad were working a lot, and my sister has extracurriculars as well. I know the whole COVID thing has impacted a lot of people, and it certainly has impacted us, but I think one positive that has come out of it is the fact that we got to slow down and catch up with each other. It brought me a little closer to my sister because I’ve been helping tutor her and prepare her for standardized testing.

What makes being a teenager during this pandemic such a unique experience?

Nicole: I think this pandemic has made us find more stuff to do with our time because I don’t know who said “teenagers spend all their time on their phone” because that’s in between doing things. I hardly go on my phone anymore because it’s boring sitting in the house for all hours of the day on your phone or doing homework. Being a teenager during this pandemic has also made us find creative ways to do different things and stay in touch with our friends. I recently discovered a website called Netflix Party where you can watch Netflix with your friends. My sister and I have created our own board games. We’ve created our own trivia games for each other. We hold dance parties. I think we’re going to see a steady rise in the number of things that are created by teenagers and cool things that teenagers discover.

Max: For us, it’s a huge flip on the head because our whole daily schedule has been kind of obliterated. Instead of having math every single day, we have one math call on Monday, and then we’ll have history on Tuesday and then science on Thursday and stuff like that. I also feel the increased sense of responsibility because everyone else is scrambling around dealing with their own changes. I have to focus on myself and what I’m doing during the [pandemic].

I hope we can alleviate the burden a tiny bit, even for parents whose kids don’t need tutoring and might just need someone to talk to because their parents are not there all the time.

How did you come up with the idea to create Orlando Student Tutoring? Why was this an important project for you to pursue?

Nicole: It was created by a group of students, mostly kids in my grade and a couple of seniors. We’re some of the top kids in the grade, so we thought, what’s something we can be doing with our time to help other people?

We decided we can use our skills to our advantage and do something without having to go anywhere and still make an impact. We created this website, and we included information in our bios about what we like to do and what [subjects] we like to tutor. We just talked a little bit about ourselves and it took off.

I contacted AdventHealth, which is right here in Orlando, and I contacted a couple other organizations. I told them, “We really want to help people, especially first responders, because they’re so busy with other things during this time.” I hope we can alleviate the burden a tiny bit, even for parents whose kids don’t need tutoring and might just need someone to talk to because their parents are not there all the time. It’s grown since then, and now everybody is coming on.

Max: We were all delirious with joy after school had been canceled for an entire quarter. So, we did our thing for a month, and it got old, and we wanted to do something else. We wanted to do something besides sit in our rooms. We thought, what’s something that we all specialize in? What’s something we could use ourselves for? And the squad that gathered is a relatively bright group of people. Not to brag or anything, but we all figured that we could use that to make a difference. One way of doing that is through tutoring because we know that a lot of families are having trouble with their kids right now and we wanted to help alleviate that through the tutoring service.

Orlando Student Tutoring website

What are some of the biggest challenges you think teenagers face when it comes to remote learning?

Nicole: I think the biggest thing Orlando Student Tutoring can do is help other students because we’ve been through all the classes that kids are asking us about. We’ve done all the same work and tests as them, or at least similar tests with similar questions. When they come to us, not only can we help teach the lesson from our perspective and show them tips and tricks that helped us but also answer specific questions they might have. We can answer them because we’re not a video; we’re a real-life person. If they share their screen, we can look at their homework, and we can look at their notes for a test.

Max: One of the major challenges is being able to control yourself because you don’t have all your teachers guiding you [in] your classes. You don’t have them in front of you every single day. So that’s a big one. You have to go out of your way to really discipline yourself to watch all those videos and get every lecture down because there still are tests.

How many people were involved in this project? How did you get other students and teachers to become involved?

Nicole: I think at the start there were about 10 people, which is a large amount, but we all know each other, and I was the only girl. I was like, “Listen guys, we need to have more female representation, especially if there’s a little girl who doesn’t want to be talking to these high school boys. I don’t think they’re going to be comfortable asking you questions.“ There are plenty of extremely intelligent girls at our school, and I’m friends with a lot of them. I reached out and asked if they would join us. As of now, I think we’re at almost 20 tutors.

Max: We created this website, and that’s how we got more people. And this is another thing that Lake Highland is very, very special about. They recognize what their students do, and they put honorable things up on their social media. Our website was how a lot of people caught wind of this and how we’ve recruited people and brought in more people to tutor. Lake Highland helped spread the word from the beginning.

What are some of the services offered by Orlando Student Tutoring and who can access them?

Nicole: We offer tutoring in almost every subject. We tutor for standardized testing, math, science, specific math and sciences, even English and reading. I have a little girl who I help with reading comprehension who’s in second grade, and that’s my favorite thing to do because we just sit and read. She’s a little smarty who loves nonfiction. I like reading about Jane Goodall and all these different people with her. We’re also there if people just want someone to talk to or maybe alleviate some of the stress in their life.

Max: We tutor every major subject. We tutor several languages. We can do this over FaceTime or on Zoom. It’s essentially the same as meeting up in person with a tutor apart from the physical distance. It’s the same process. We help the students go through their worksheets. We can help them study for tests. We can teach them or help them with new concepts that they might be struggling with. We go up to sophomore year. Each tutor has their own schedule, but most of them are available anytime because we’re not really going anywhere.

If you could recommend joining Mensa to another gifted student like yourself, what would be your top three reasons for why they should join?

Nicole: Number one is to meet and be surrounded by people who all have different viewpoints and different experiences. They’re all so bright and they’ve all got so many good ideas that they’ve come up with in their life. It’s also fun to find out if there are people that you know who are in [Mensa] that you didn’t know before. That’s a big one. I know some of my long-distance relatives my dad was telling me about are in it, and I just thought that was neat. Number three is that it’s a fun experience to join. I obviously haven’t been a part of it for very long, but it’s fun to either take the test or get an evaluation and join because I like challenging myself.

Max: You get to connect with people. It gives you access to a wide net of really, really smart people. And the connections are really, really useful, especially now.