Pandemic inspires alumni to launch free, online tutoring

Isabella Perea ’20 is troubled every time she visits Colombia. Her heart breaks seeing how the educational system of her home country is run.

Knowing that not every student has the opportunity to learn English upsets her. Knowing that she can change that motivates her.

Perea and her friend Pierina Anton, launched E-Learning Amigos Tutoring in April. Their mission? To remove educational barriers with a free, virtual tutoring service for K-12 students in all subjects.

As immigrants, Perea’s parents always addressed the importance of giving back to the community. She was also inspired to impact others this way because she benefited from volunteer services and resources while growing up in Canada.

While a biology undergraduate at FIU, Perea worked with students on campus as a learning and teaching assistant in chemistry and physics. She also volunteered at Nicklaus Children’s Hospital. On her free days she provided private, in-person math and science tutoring to high school students.

This March, her roles quickly changed.

“When COVID-19 happened and everything went online, I was really sad that I couldn’t connect with students anymore and help them in whatever they needed,” Perea said.

Perea’s transition to remote learning as a college student was difficult. She couldn’t imagine the strain it took on younger students and parents.

Driven to continue offering her tutoring services and helping her students adjust to remote learning, an idea sparked. Instead of just helping a couple students, why not do more?

To achieve that goal, she started from the comfort of her house. All she needed was a computer, video camera and her love for teaching.

That’s when she approached Anton, a Venezuelan native and international relations FIU alumna, with her idea. Anton’s interest in international development, education and helping youth migrants made her the ideal candidate to further develop E-Learning Amigos.

Together, they worked with a small group of FIU students to show them Zoom’s features and provide tips on how to tutor students under these conditions.

“We prepare the tutors by giving them and the parents a tutor handbook so they have the same information and can have a successful session,” Anton said.

Since the launch, several students have seen success.

One 10th grade student improved his reading grade F to an A in a matter of weeks thanks in large part to eight one-hour sessions with his tutor Mia Cleary, an FIU international relations and political science student. Separately, an incoming first grader with Spanish as his first language was able to read and write in English prior to starting this academic year with the help of his tutors Ana Suarez and Iveliz Diaz, both FIU biological sciences majors.

Perea was satisfied with these victories, but to take it abroad, well, that was a dream. A dream that is on its way to becoming a reality.

Compelled to help students with fewer resources in education and those learning English, the pair connected their Spanish speaking tutors with students in South America and established an English learning program. They were able to teach English to high school students from Colombia.

It wasn’t until Perea received an email that she realized the impact of her program. One mother even asked Perea to send a letter to his teacher confirming he was being tutored. His teacher thought he was cheating on his assignments because he was advancing so well in English.

All around the world, parents couldn’t get enough.

Once the academic year ended, E-Learning Amigos offered a virtual summer program to help parents keep their students educated, and most importantly, busy.

Tutors had the autonomy to develop an eight-week curriculum based on the subject of their choice. The curriculum was overseen by the summer program director Daniela Turcios, an education student at the University of Western in Ontario, who is Perea’s friend. She provided tutors guidance on how to coordinate their classes and create interactive and engaging activities for the younger students in subjects including STEM, reading and French.

Parents were beyond grateful.

“I am very happy with my decision to register my daughter in the E-Learning Amigos Tutoring Program. Tutoring has been very helpful during these unpredictable times with my daughter having online classes,” parent Bibiana Garcia wrote on E-Learning’s Facebook.  “She is very excited, encouraged and grateful for all the help she has received so far. I recommend this program. Thank you very much!”

From eight tutors and two students locally in April to a team of 70 volunteers and 60 students globally, Perea and Anton have truly made an impact.

“We started little,” Perea said, “but here we are.”

Follow E-Learning Amigos on their Instagram or Facebook to learn more.