Studious Siblings Tutor Students Seeking Help

Norah Hussaini, Staff Writer

In April, the Austin Independent School District (AISD) went virtual. No student in the district entered school buildings, from elementary to high school students. A national study from the American Psychological Association showed that parents with children under 18 at home were markedly more stressed than non-parents. It was for this reason that siblings freshman Travis Edwards and junior Sally Edwards founded Beyond the Classroom, a free tutoring program for elementary school students. 

“For parents, it may be a really hard thing to balance, dealing with their children’s school, dealing with their work, and trying to maintain somewhat of a normal lifestyle,” Sally Edwards said. “I thought that we, as students, could try to bridge that gap and try to solve that problem.”

Beyond the Classroom tutors students in whichever subject they would like. Tutors first meet with the students and parents and then help them in the requested subject through practice problems, looking at past assignments and explaining concepts.

The program picks tutors through a nominating process, which was started in October. 12 students were nominated, and 10 of them are currently working with the program. One of these tutors is senior Madelyn Madiedo.

“I personally really like working with children,” Madiedo said. “This opportunity is so cool, and it’s really good that we get to help out kids who need some extra help in different subjects. It’s also nice to talk and interact with students because, in this pandemic, kids probably aren’t getting a lot of social interaction. I think it’s good to do something nice for them.”

Madiedo had past experience in similar programs such as the Peer Assistance Leadership Service (PALS) program available at LASA, which she said led to her decision to tutor with Beyond the Classroom. This prior tutoring experience is shared throughout the tutors. Sally Edwards and her brother also previously volunteered with an orchestra tutoring group, K2K Strings, which she said helped prepare them for current tutoring.

“We’re really lucky to have people who have had past experience with tutoring,” Sally Edwards said. “People who have been in other tutoring programs or people who’ve tutored on their own for their siblings or with younger children in the community.”

The tutors go through training created by the Edwards siblings in order to be prepared for the kids’ needs. This training establishes ground rules and provides resources and techniques for tutors to come up with their lesson plans. Sally Edwards said they have learned how to keep students engaged, motivated and focused while providing kids with other resources such as social interaction. 

“We’re not only an academic resource we’re also a social resource for these kids who may not have siblings or may not be able to talk to their friends as much,” Sally Edwards said. “It’s good to have that kind of social connection that they might be missing to adapt to the way they’re handling school right now, especially younger children, when this time is such a formative one in their growth and experience.”

Both Edwards siblings said they want the parents and students to feel comfortable as a part of the tutoring process. Parents have access to recordings of sessions and are allowed to attend sessions if they would like. The siblings said the accommodating structure of the tutoring sessions gives students have the opportunity to take a quick minute to relax, talk about their day and settle down before starting their session. 

“We really wanted to structure the sessions in a way so it wasn’t just all about teaching the kids what they should know,” Travis Edwards said. “We want the tutoring sessions to be a time where the kids feel excited to come because their tutor seems excited to be there.” 

The Edwards siblings started the service online to help kids and parents as a result of the  COVID-19 quarantine order in the spring. Although it started for pandemic-based reasons, both Sally and Travis Edwards said they want to take the program to the next level. 

“We all have the capabilities to do well in school, and we feel that we should be sharing those capabilities, especially now,” Travis Edwards said. “We’re hoping that this tutoring service will go beyond being virtual. Later on, we may do it in person when it becomes safe.”