When it was clear the COVID-19 pandemic would turn education on its ear and that hybrid learning would not be a substitute for in-person instruction, Nathan Goldrich (EHS class of ’16), watched as affluent families enrolled their kids in private tutoring.
“It is great for those students, but so many kids with so few socioeconomic resources would never be able to afford such services,” said Goldrich, who studied neuroscience and music at Northwestern University and graduated in June. “We wanted to help reduce the educational inequality caused by the COVID pandemic.”
So, in August, Goldrich, along with other Northwestern graduates, launched STEMPod Tutoring (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math). Its mission: to reinforce lessons learned in biology, chemistry and algebra during school, through small groups, or pods, containing no more than four students.
“That small size permits interactivity and personalization so that each student can learn from and help each other,” in effect, helping to level the academic playing field, “between those who can afford tutoring and those who cannot.”
Though it is a national organization, STEMPod serves local Westchester communities through religious organizations in White Plains and Yonkers. A presentation was made about the initiative to Greenburgh Town Supervisor Paul Feiner and members of the Greenburgh Town Board in October.
“They’re giving high school kids an opportunity to excel,” said Feiner. “So, when they get to college, they’ll have a leg up and do better than they had anticipated. I think it’s exciting.”
Although open to everybody, Goldrich believes “it would be a better service to target people who otherwise would not be able to access these services.”
Casting a wider net, Goldrich’s six-member team — trained in physics, biology, chemistry and medicine — worked with community affairs and faculty at Northwestern, University of Chicago, MIT, Boston University and New York University to identify area high school students who could most benefit from the program.
How it works
Students can sign up for daily tutoring sessions in chemistry, biology or algebra through the STEMPod website. By reviewing resources from advanced placement and state regents’ programs, the team can “easily follow the schools’ curricula and provide exactly the right amount of information,” said Goldrich. “As it turns out, the STEM curriculum in the United States is standardized enough to keep teachers and students on the same page within and between school districts.”
Tutors use the conference platform Zoom Premium, and work through problems using Microsoft Surface or an iPad. Students are encouraged to demonstrate mastery by leading discussions and guiding tutors when solving problems.
Some may wonder, though, with many schools already struggling with remote learning, how are tutors tackling the same challenge?
“It is important to remember that our goal is to supplement school learning, not to replace it,” explained Goldrich. “The small pod sizes enable STEMPod to personalize the sessions enough to provide the attention each student needs, while also leaving room for the social component of learning.”
A companion program to STEMPod, called STEM Leaders, offers podcasts featuring Nobel Prize winners Dr. Rainer Weiss and Dr. Barry Barish, who made scientific breakthroughs in the field of black holes and gravitational waves. Goldrich posts these interviews to inspire and encourage students coping with COVID-related mental health issues.
“Even students who have the financial resources to be successful find themselves lacking motivation and the desire to pursue their dreams,” said Goldrich.
Community outreach is nothing new to Goldrich who studied with EHS music director John Catoliato. “The way he ran Edgemont’s music ensembles has served as a perfect blueprint for our pod sessions,” said Goldrich. “He taught me the value of providing instruction, but also listened to the needs of the students and directed attention to wherever help was needed.”
At EHS, Goldrich helped expand the Edgemont Performing Arts Club to play at local nursing homes and benefit concerts, and he created a music tutoring program that connected Edgemont musicians with students at Greenville and Seely Place elementary schools.
At Northwestern, Goldrich volunteered with music and exercise programs at hospitals and rehab centers.
Goldrich plans to attend medical school in 2022, but he and members of the STEMPod team plan to continue tutoring “indefinitely” and expect to offer pods in several other subjects.
“We are all eager to continue giving back to the community and support STEMPod’s mission.”