Philly Proud: New Jersey college student begins backpack tutoring program

PHILADELPHIA (WPVI) -- Alaya Gutha is a 19-year-old junior at Rutgers University, New Brunswick majoring in cell biology and neuroscience with a minor in education.

While she does not have a clear picture of what she wants to do with her major, her minor is already being put to use. In May of 2020, she started Backpack Tutoring, a college student-led educational nonprofit, serving students in kindergarten to 12th grade.

"There's a statistic that says that those who do not perform well, in third-grade literacy, or reading comprehension, don't go on to graduate high school," she said.

There are three main components to the organization.

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"Virtual one-on-one tutoring via Zoom, which is what most people who receive tutoring for us or tutor for us know about. The second is content creation. So, creating things like worksheets, videos, etc., to supplement whatever kids are already learning in schools. And the last being community outreach, so to do things for kids in the community," she explained.

Gutha said that with the pandemic came school lockdowns and forced virtual learning, and that is partially to blame for poor academic performances and the disconnect between students and educators.

"COVID-19 as a problem on its own, but I think it exacerbated a lot of problems, education being one of them. All of us were on Zoom for a very long time this was supposed to help alleviate some of the stress that it was causing," she said.

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She has about 200 volunteer tutors in her program that are available to assist students with everything from basic arithmetic and reading comprehension, to calculus, phagocytosis and biology.

"Hoping to teach them something, obviously, curriculum-based or academic, but in a, you know, in the larger scheme of things, I do hope that kids don't feel hopeless about the school," she said. "Maybe they come out with a sense of feeling like they can do it instead of losing hope."

"You're not limited, you know, you're still you're young, you're full of potential."

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