MEEP provides academic support during distance learning

Libby Hughes

MEEP volunteer tutor Michael Bender tutors a fifth grade student who attends Bahia Vista Elementary School. (Photo courtesy of Mary Bender)

Whether it is doing jumping jacks for P.E. in front of a laptop camera or awkwardly waiting for the other people in a breakout room to unmute themselves, Redwood students are now facing an array of new technological learning challenges in light of the pandemic. However, for many students, especially those of a lower socioeconomic status, the transition to online learning has proven to be even more of a struggle academically. 

Students coming from lower household incomes often have limited access to computers and WiFi at home, placing them at an immediate disadvantage during distance learning which is predominantly online. Moreover, especially during the pandemic, extra instruction and supervision outside of school can be difficult for lower income families to afford, further deepening educational disparities. Mary Bender, sixth grade teacher at Saint Hilary School and founder of the tutoring service Homework Helpers, recognizes the prevalence of this educational inequity in Marin. 

“There is a gap between the kids that can afford a $100-an-hour tutor and the kids that can’t…The students [who] can’t afford [tutoring] are falling farther and farther behind with distance learning,” Bender said. “Many of them have parents [who] are domestic workers, and if they don’t work, they can’t put money and food on the table for their family. Those people never stopped working, so you have these kids that are home that are unsupervised and falling behind.”

Flyer courtesy of Mary Bender and Eli Ganong

To combat this growing disparity, this past August, Bender joined with child behavior development specialist and consultant Diane Provo to create the Marin Equality in Education Project (MEEP). The organization aims to achieve equal access to education for Marin students by providing elementary and middle schoolers coming from families that make under $75,000 a year with free high school and college student tutors over Zoom. Several Redwood alumni including Eli Ganong, Kyle Felder and Robbie Wilson are in charge of both matching the students with tutors and fundraising for the organization. The alumni created a GoFundMe to keep the organization running through most of the school year while providing students with the academic resources which they would have normally had access to in in-person classes. Marin school districts have also helped increase awareness of MEEP through informative flyers included in the free lunches that have been distributed.

To accommodate the growing number of students in need of tutors, Ganong believes Redwood students would be ideal volunteer candidates. 

“We are looking for college students and high schoolers that are on top of their own schoolwork and organized enough with their own classwork in order to help someone else. You need to know simple math and English, but the main part of [MEEP] is just about getting [the students] some face-to-face help,” Ganong said. 

In addition to reforming education, Provo stresses that Marin residents need to become aware of this disparity that exists in Marin and realize how important tutors are for low income households. 

“Right now, with the way the education system is handling this issue of online learning, these kids feel more cared for by these high school students and the college kids than they do by their schools,” Provo said.

If high school and college students are interested in becoming a volunteer tutor, they can fill out an application through the MEEP’s website at https://www.marinequalityineducationproject.org/  or contact the program leaders at [email protected]