MILTON, Ga. — The effects of the coronavirus pandemic on daily life has spared no one, and Cambridge High School senior Ashley Cotsman knows she has been impacted far less than most.
Cotsman gained insight into that perspective ahead of this 2020-21 academic year. She was “moping” about the continuance of virtual learning, she said, taking away precious time from her senior year. But a conversation with her uncle changed her way of thinking.
The discussion centered around low-income families with young kids. Some were facing the prospect of losing their only source of childcare, in-person public school classes, while having to work. Some may be single parents eking by financially. Some families have both parents working jobs they cannot do from home. Some may not have the time or skills to be a de-facto teacher while trying to work.
“It puts everything in perspective,” Cotsman said. “I come from a place of privilege, all I am losing is the emotion tied with my senior year. But for many families this has been awful. I can’t imagine what it’s like for families with young kids.”
That thought was a call to action for Cotsman and her friend and fellow Cambridge senior Kathryn Amstutz. Together, they began recruiting fellow AP students to tutor students from low-income families in Atlanta. And in lieu of payments to the student tutors, the group asks for families to support a charitable organization helping locals through the pandemic.
The initiative began with Cotsman and Amstutz texting their high-achieving classmates to see who might be interested in tutoring. More and more students signed on, a website was created, and what began as a handful of tutors has swelled to over 40, most from Cambridge High School.
The tutors aid in various subjects from language arts, social studies and math to French and Spanish language courses for students in kindergarten through eighth grade. Tutoring can either be done virtually or in-person at the K-8 students’ home with the tutor wearing a facemask.
“A lot of parents are still working, and not all have the time, patience or experience to sit down with their kids and do math,” Cotsman said.
Parents can sign up their kids with the tutors asking for a $10 donation per hour of tutoring be made to the Greater Atlanta Covid Response and Recovery Fund. A partnership between the United Way of Greater Atlanta and the Community Foundation of Greater Atlanta, the organization makes grants to nonprofits working to support vulnerable workers and families. According to their website, the fund has raised over $18 million.
Cotsman said she chose the group because it perfectly aligned with her intentions of helping those in the area most impacted by the pandemic.
“We feel so much sympathy for the low-income families who have had their hands tied with this scenario, particularly those with elementary school kids with working parents,” Cotsman said.
As the tutoring program forges ahead, it has been heralded by the families it has assisted.
“They have been super thankful,” Cotsman said. “I tutored someone Monday, her mother is a single mom who said she cannot afford a $50-an-hour tutor. They really appreciate us for keeping it cheap and donating the money. They feel they are helping out their community as well.”
The benefit of the tutoring program is three-fold. In addition to helping students and those hard-hit by the pandemic, the tutors benefit.
Cotsman said most of their tutors are juniors and seniors who need service hours. With traditional avenues like working at the school library no longer an option, tutoring has provided a new way to give back to the community.
The program has taken more effort than Cotsman originally expected, she said, but it has become a passion project and labor of love.
“It’s fun, and it makes me feel better,” she said.