In mid-March of 2020, all Long Island schools closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, leaving many elementary and middle school students in the dark, struggling to understand mathematical concepts without the help of a real-time teacher. “After seeing my brother struggle to learn algebra remotely during the quarantine, I realized that elementary school students must really struggle to learn math remotely,” said Samara Silverman, a senior at Ward Melville High School. She was one of the first to notice this issue as she tried to teach her brother concepts that he could not learn from online math class. This issue is not unique to Silverman’s brother, and many other students in the district face similar problems learning remotely. As a strong foundation in mathematics is central to the development of critical thinking skills in young students, this became an issue of vast implications.
Silverman and several of her friends from her math class deduced that the elementary and middle school students, who were learning math from pre-recorded videos, lacked the instantaneous feedback and attention that comes from real-time, individualized tutoring. To remedy this and provide opportunities for mathematical growth even during the COVID-19 pandemic, the group of high school students founded a non-profit online tutoring program dubbed Math Mates.
Math Mates, originally consisting of Silverman and a board of 4 members, offers free online tutoring to young students who are struggling in their math classes or simply wish to explore mathematics further. They started by posting advertisements in group chats and reaching out to elementary and middle school teachers to contact students and parents and heard back from many excited parents. After Math Mates recruited more tutors to meet the rising demand, they began to offer their first tutoring sessions. Each week, the tutors contact the kids’ parents to set up tutoring times and offer hour-long, interactive math lessons through a video meet platform. The kids are able to ask questions, practice concepts that they couldn’t grasp in school, and most importantly, appreciate mathematics.
Math Mates grew at an unprecedented rate, and, as of November 2, had 15 tutors teaching 23 elementary school students. The efforts of these high school students did not go unrecognized; two weeks ago, the Math Mates tutors were honored by the Board of Education for their altruism during the difficult summer. In addition to providing help to younger students, many Math Mates tutors agree that they have also learned tremendously from their experiences tutoring young students. “[Math Mates] made me a more confident person… I had to learn to effectively communicate with kids, parents, administrators, and my peers,” said Silverman. Nancy Zhong, also a Math Mates tutor, highlighted the importance of her role as a tutor in shaping her student’s future. “I’m not just there to help with math; I also have a role in my student’s opinion of math, which is [a little] scary,” she said.
The Math Mates program is continuing to operate during the school year, providing personalized lessons to help young students explore and cherish the world of mathematics beyond their core classes.