She began with the food insecurities in her district, and now she’s on to the inequities in our school system.
After a successful pilot launch, New York Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s new Homework Helpers program is in full swing. Ocasio-Cortez, who made news this week with her grueling Instagram Live account of the mob on the U.S. Capitol, created the tutoring program in response to the difficulties of remote learning. Immediately, hundreds of volunteers signed up — and they found thousands of interested families. After conducting 200 one-on-one sessions starting with an October pilot, the program aims to expand and enroll 1,000 families by June.
“As elected officials, we should step in to support our constituents when systems fail to do so,” AOC told Parents.
In fact, AOC was just assigned a student herself.
Ocasio-Cortez was matched with a first grader and will help that student in reading and math. No surprise there, as the Congresswoman was an educational director at a local community-based organization National Hispanic Institute at one point.
In 2019, she told late-night talk show hosts Desus & Mero that “I could just be like teaching in high school right now” were it not for Trump. “But you know, times of great challenge can also bring out the best in people, too, and so I think that’s what we’re really seeing, even though things are hitting the fan right now, we’re seeing people activate and educate themselves.”
And activate she did.
What does Homework Helpers offer to participating families?
- The program guarantees students a minimum of four one-on-one weekly homework help sessions.
- Small group lessons and workshops on subjects like robotics, college/career readiness, coding, history, culinary arts, music and more.
- Will soon offer a Homework Helpers Neighborhood with educational virtual worlds on popular, safe and free gaming platforms like Roblox.
Additional languages coming soon
Volunteer tutors go through background checks and training before they are matched with students. Flyers just went out for both English and Spanish tutoring services, and additional languages will be promoted as more volunteers complete training. Currently the program has tutors who speak Spanish, Bangla, Urdu, Mandarin, Cantonese, Korean, French, and Kru.
Facetime with helpers — and a special guest
The small group sessions will consist of both interest-based and skill-based activities. The sessions are meant to be a fun way for students to learn new things, meet new people, and collaborate with friends — ultimately recreating the community that comes from in-person learning. Sessions might include games, astronomy lessons with real NASA engineers — and the occasional visit from AOC herself.
Not just the Bronx
While Homework Helpers is not the first program to offer assistance to students, it aims to support the development of Homework Helper programs throughout the US. And if there is one thing pandemic-era schooling has shown us, it’s the accuracy of the age-old saying, “it takes a village.”
The program has run on local PTA support in AOC’s 14th Congressional District in both the Bronx and Queens, largely because of political organizer Jonathan Soto’s academic and grassroots background and passion.
We asked Jonathan his thoughts on how parents can be more involved and support their school.
“You can support a class or a group of students with just 10-15 volunteers. We do recommend reaching out to parents or guardians at your local PTA or PA to get started. It’s important to build trust with the PA first, and then work closely with them to monitor the parent/student experience,” he said.
As for how the program plans to grow across the country? “We have a partnership’s working group that is developing a Homework Helpers toolkit. This toolkit will be released in April and will have templates and guides on how to reach out to your local school, library or community organization to launch a homework helper program.”
Want to participate? Visit bit.ly/HomeworkHelpersBX.
This story originally appeared in The Unmuted newsletter. Subscribe here.