Hand in Hand fights inequality in education


Contributed by Sophie O'Connell

Created to help bridge the inequalities in education that have been exacerbated by COVID-19, Hand in Hand tutors students across the country. The organization hopes to eventually establish a multilingual curriculum available to students who otherwise could not afford outside tutoring.

With schools remote and parents back at work, many students have not received the support they need to succeed and learn. Evelyn Chen ’20 has set out to help fix that problem, especially for the students who get less help at home.

In August, Chen created the nonprofit organization Hand-in-Hand to tutor students in a variety of subjects using many languages, on a sliding scale payment model. Their mission is to combat inequalities in education. They now have over 50 tutors and 100 students, who are learning online across the U.S. and internationally.

Chen created Hand-in-Hand after seeing societal inequalities exacerbated by COVID-19.

“My friends and I were talking to see what we could do while enduring quarantine, and the one thing that kept coming up in the news and with our younger siblings is this term called the ‘remote learning gap,’” Chen said. “And after doing a little bit more research, I realized that the learning gap is most prevalent in children of immigrant parents or children in more disadvantaged neighborhoods. So we then created Hand-in-Hand.”

The remote learning gap is a term that explains the inequality in education between people who have more resources versus those who have less, especially during remote learning when so much is done at home. Right now Hand-in-Hand is offering tutoring in six languages at cheaper rates than other similar tutoring services in order to combat this gap.

Chen said it is important to increase academic support for everyone who needs extra help during online school, when teachers can’t give as much help on guidance.

“Brookline just started hybrid, but I would presume it’s still not the same as being in school five days a week, especially in terms of the amount of one on one time with your teachers. You can’t just email a teacher and say, ‘Can I step in during lunch and talk to you about an issue I have or a problem I have?’” Chen said. “I think our organization serves as a really strong support system for kids that are not getting enough over Zoom on a hybrid system.”

Junior and Hand-in-Hand tutor Alexa Kalish said increased academic support is crucial during remote school.

“I think it’s very important because a lot of what we’re doing is supporting these children through their school system, which is very difficult for them right now. Evelyn’s organization really just provides an opportunity for these kids to not feel so stuck and to keep up their great work,” Kalish said.

One of Hand-in-Hand’s main goals is to offer academic support affordably and in many languages. This lends to fighting inequalities in opportunity and education in many ways, according to Hand-in-Hand associate director and junior Lilia Burtonpatel.

“When you move to a new country or when your parents didn’t grow up in the same country or the same community as you grow up in, it’s really hard to get support. Different families and different students have benefits and advantages that other ones don’t because of money or because of culture,” Burtonpatel said. “And being able to help equalize that helps with fighting inequality in general, through race, ethnicity, sex and all different genres of discrimination.”

Hand-in-Hand tutors students from kindergarten to 10th grade. They offer this tutoring on a sliding scale payment model.

“We have fee waivers for families who have been personally affected by COVID-19 or just live in more disadvantaged neighborhoods and don’t have the financial ability to pay $70 or $80 an hour for a tutor,” Chen said. “Right now our fees go from completely free if you’re on the fee waiver to upwards of $15 an hour.”

All of the nonprofit earnings are awarded back as a scholarship fund to a few students at the end of each school year. This scholarship hasn’t been awarded yet as the organization is still very new, but Chen plans to grant it to around three students who have excelled this year in order to help them pay for materials and learning opportunities.

Hand in Hand tutors meet over Zoom. (Contributed by Evelyn Chen)

The organization’s long term goal is to go beyond tutoring and to help address longstanding inequality with a multilingual learning platform.

“Tutoring is our first small step forward because we’re such a new organization. But the big picture goal is to be able to have an online platform with a multilingual academic curriculum because the core of our organization is rooted in academic equality,” Chen said. “No matter what race, gender, disability or financial situation you’re in, you should have the same academic opportunities as people that are more able to access these resources on their own.”

This online learning platform combined with affordable academic support for students who aren’t able to get it at home helps shrink the education gap, according to Burtonpatel.

“I personally believe that education is essential to helping decrease inequality in many, many ways and also that it will just help us in general,” Burtonpatel said. “So having a program that focuses on the education of children and specifically children that might not get the same level of educational resources without our program is really important to me and important for the world.”

Although Hand-in-Hand has spread beyond Brookline and even beyond the country, the high school is still an important part of the organization, according to Chen.

“We’ve also been talking to Brookline about integrating our organization back to them because I was a Brookline High graduate myself, and I think it’d just be really cool to give back to them. Many of our tutors still go to [the high school], and it has a special place in our heart,” Chen said.