Students helping students

Edina 12th-grader Emma Caris reviews math for the ACT college entrance exam with fellow Edina 12th-grader Dennis Bao on Wednesday, July 23, at Starbucks in Edina. Bao is one of the founders of Genesis Test Prep, which provides free test preparation for students. (Sun Current staff photo by Lisa Kaczke)

At $150 per hour, private tutoring for college entrance exams can get expensive.

Some high school students may not be able to afford that or their families don’t want to spend that much for tutoring. For other students, they may want to study with another student rather than an adult tutor.

Edina High School senior Dennis Bao’s ACT tutor asked him to volunteer in a free test prep seminar for Minneapolis students who couldn’t afford preparation classes, tutoring and programs on their own. While tutoring the students, he realized that the same need exists in Edina, he said.

Everyone should have access to test preparation, he said.

Wealthy students have the advantage of being able to afford private preparation tools for the ACT and SAT, and that leads to post-secondary success, Bao said. As the educational system is set up, students who aren’t as successful on the college exams, possibly due to financial barriers, may then be limited in their post-secondary options, he said.

The gap between students’ ACT scores based on family income was also highlighted in the ACT’s The Condition of College and Career Readiness annual report released with 2013 data last week.

Of ACT-tested students nationwide, 95 percent of low-income students – students whose families earn less than $36,000 – aspire to receive post-secondary education, compared with 87 percent of all students, according to the report. However, nearly half of low-income students taking the ACT met none of the college readiness benchmarks in the four subjects tested on the ACT. Twenty percent of low-income students met at least three of the four benchmarks, compared to 62 percent of the students whose families have an annual income of $100,000 or more, according to the report.

To help students increase their scores in the west metro area, Bao and EHS junior Sid Ramesh created Genesis Test Prep in April. The nonprofit, named for a “fresh start” for students, offers free test preparation services on a one-on-one basis.

They’re not trying to fix the educational system, but rather address the realities that exist today. School district administrations focus on closing the achievement gap from the top administration down, whereas Bao and Ramesh want to help close the achievement gap on the level of working directly with students, Ramesh said.

In addition to tutoring students for the ACT and SAT, Ramesh has been tutoring a student for the PSAT exam to help the student receive a National Merit scholarship.

Tutoring includes taking practice exams, homework and reviewing skills. The tutors meet in places like coffee shops and libraries.

They’ve been drawing students to their tutoring by word of mouth, social media, their friend networks and school counselors.

The duo have 35 students from EHS, Bloomington Kennedy High School and the Academy of Holy Angels receiving tutoring from five students. They hope to expand in the west metro suburbs to 10 tutors for 100 students at schools like Eden Prairie and Wayzata High schools.

They’ve also brought on board EHS seniors Leah Stewart, Ben Bogart and Jonathan Willett to assist in running Genesis Test Prep.

The tutors won’t turn away students who ask for assistance in preparing for exams, Bao said. The goal is to connect high-scoring students with students who have potential, but maybe not the financial means to reach that potential on the exams, he said.

Bao and Ramesh also have the scores to show they know how to do well on the exams, both scoring in the 99th percentile nationally.

Bao scored a 35 out of 36 on the ACT and a 2380 out of 2400 on the SAT. As a high school senior, Bao is looking ahead to potentially study economics and finance for a future career in the public sector.

Ramesh, who is hoping to complete a minor in math next year through the University of Minnesota’s Talented Youth Mathematics Program, scored a 34 on the ACT as an eighth-grader.

Giving back to the community by volunteering to tutor students also comes naturally to Bao and Ramesh.

Bao, captain of the EHS varsity alpine ski team and a member of the EHS 212 Leadership Group, tutors in the Study Buddies program at Creek Valley Elementary School, the AVID Academy program at Valley View Middle School and in Edina’s Saturday School program. Outside of school, he also volunteers with Habitat for Humanity and Fairview Southdale Hospital.

Ramesh, a member of the EHS tennis team, volunteers at Valley View Middle School’s summer Monday Middle Math Minds program and the middle school’s after-school homework help program. Outside of school, he volunteers at Fairview Southdale Hospital, and, as an avid piano player, is a member of the MacPhail Center for Music’s Teen Advisory Council.



Contact Lisa Kaczke at or follow her on Twitter @EdinaSunCurrent.


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