Alexander Graham Bell once said that when one door closes, another one opens.
Geeta Sethi felt that a door had not just closed but slammed shut when the pandemic halted weekly tutoring for her beloved kindergarteners in February 2020. Before tutoring halted, Geeta had tutored twice weekly at a Buffalo, New York elementary school through AARP Foundation Experience Corps. It’s a nationwide, evidence-based program that helps elementary school students learn to read fluently by the end of third grade.
If I can make a difference in one kid’s life, I think I’ve achieved a lot.
“It was so sad we couldn’t be there. The two days I volunteered were the happiest days of my week,” says Geeta, 58, who had raised her own children to be avid readers. “I so loved volunteering. If I can make a difference in one kid’s life, I think I’ve achieved a lot, in terms of giving back. Even if it’s a drop in the ocean, it makes a difference. Every time I go there, the consistency we provide for the kids is so important,” she adds.
It didn’t hurt that she found her students to be motivated, adorable and affectionate. “The two boys I tutored were the cutest, and the hugs they gave me made my heart melt,” she said.
Geeta also felt that her efforts were truly making a difference in the boys’ ability to read. “When you go back after one lesson plan and they remember it, it is such a satisfying feeling. You see the difference at the end of the week or the end of the year with the scores and it’s really nice to see you helped them through this. They were motivated and felt challenged and put in 110 percent,” she said.
True to Bell’s prediction, the other door opened this past January when she resumed tutoring with AARP Foundation Experience Corps through Microsoft Teams, this time working with second graders. To her delight, Geeta discovered that remote tutoring has its advantages.
Her students have also taught her skills like how to share her screen and use emojis.
Thanks to Experience Corps’ training, Geeta was also able to master the intricacies of virtual platforms like Microsoft Teams and acquire the skill of teaching in a remote environment. “I cannot thank Experience Corps enough, because, at my age, if I wasn’t volunteering, I would not have learned how to do remote teaching or remote tutoring,” she says.
And, while she already knew how to use the computer, “now I know how to join a Zoom meeting, click the link, and what I can do on the screen,” she says. Her students have also taught her skills like how to share her screen and use emojis such as the clapping hands and others.
Tutoring remotely has also cut her time commitment significantly since she no longer must travel to and from school twice a week. Geeta calls that “a blessing in disguise” because it makes it much easier for her to care for her 90-year-old mother, who is increasingly unable to stay alone for long periods of time. Geeta has also been able to use the time between her two tutoring sessions on the same day to feed her mother lunch.
All in all, the remote tutoring program has been extremely worthwhile from Geeta’s perspective.
“Even though our city schools have started having the kids come in twice a week, in one of the families I tutor, they’ve decided not to send them in to school. The other boy I tutor goes in only on Monday out of the two days he is able to attend,” she says. “Can you imagine where these kids would be if they could not get this intervention of extra help through COVID?”
Learn more about AARP Foundation Experience Corps and how to become a volunteer.
Read more stories about how our programs have helped people find hope, and about the volunteers who give so much of themselves to help others.