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How is RFTS preparing its members for college and future careers?

Written by: Krishna Kumar

Date: January 2021

The acronym RFTS does not do service to the ambitiousness of the name “Reach for the Stars”. While we aren’t building rocketships or doing satellite launches, we are metaphorically reaching for the stars by giving all of our members an upward push on whatever trajectories they are already on—and in human metaphor, the “stars” usually mean our dreams and the methods we use to achieve those dreams in the world; unless the aspiration is a spiritual or selfless-service aspiration. For students in HS, it might or might not mean their future careers and college. So how are we reaching for these “stars”? There are four primary ways I’ve witnessed this during my own time here at RFTS.

What we’re mostly known for is tutoring. And the unique form of tutoring we do here (online tutoring) has pretty unique upsides and challenges. For one, the student and teacher (tutor) have to both be motivated—almost on an equal level. During in-person classes, an uninterested student can usually drag themselves into class because they “have to”, and not pay attention or not want to learn. For online tutoring, the very act of initiating this requires some self-motivation by the student—because the tutor does not go to the student if the latter hasn’t signed up. You can't communicate using “interpersonal signals” or “playfulness” to lighten the mood during class too much: on a screen, fifteen minutes spent playing a game on Zoom has just as much effect on eye irritation than if those fifteen minutes were spent teaching math on the same Zoom. The screen is the same.

In person (supposing teaching was going on online as well as in person) the teacher would have the option of interspersing session-portions with offline ludo games. But because Zoom changes the board a bit, tutors have to be innovative. So besides inculcating the qualities being a teacher helps you inculcate, tutors also end up becoming more tech-savvy and comfortable with online tools. Then again, there’s always the “General Volunteer” option. It makes it easier for people to contribute whatever general skills or resources they want to share/create for the others in the organization (especially when people are undecided about “committing” to a specific, long-term task like being a tutor for a student, but still want to contribute and get service hours by helping those tutors by creating valuable lesson plans). This brings us to the next point: RFTS is organically building a collaborative system using Slack communication, the “tutor” community, and the new “Blogging/Publishing” community.

About our Slack channel: tutors, writers and editors do consistently share helpful bits of information and ask pertinent questions from each other. A little example: a few days ago, someone on the Slack channel for AP Peer Tutoring who is going to take an AP Exam soon hadn’t heard about the videos that the “AP People” at College Board post on the CollegeBoard website (these videos teach and explain concepts from the AP syllabus of each subject). That person posted asking for information to help prepare for the exam; another member replied and revealed to all others in the channel about the CollegeBoard videos. If the person who asked this was a tutor herself, bingo, she now knows a new resource to use for her tutoring too: so as a corollary of the collaboration-development, our tutors can help other tutors too.

And of course, there’s the perennial bonus that all volunteers here get: service hours, which also happen to be the most “obvious” way volunteering helps for college. Mainly, we get these service hours from doing online work, which might be one of the key factors that led to this nonprofit’s explosive growth recently. Since the pandemic, searching for “volunteer opportunities” that are in-person and not online (excluding, of course, the vital, respected and very much in-person work that medical volunteers are doing) has become hard. Even for coffee-shops and local churches, in some ways. Last year, I myself was searching for volunteer opportunities in my locality, and stumbled across a coffee-shop. I emailed its owner and he replied after quite a bit of time: when I was ready to start going there and serving, it was snowy winter months, and soon after, the pandemic began and I couldn’t go.

With RFTS? You can serve from your couch. And yet not be a couch potato—for it is meaningful work with a global impact on this generation of students ranging from elementary to high school. Yes, RFTS has done a lot for the thousands that have joined this movement-of-sorts.