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Tanisha Kota

Program helps K-8 students

Tanisha Kota has seen and experienced how COVID-19 has affected the lives of students. She’s found a way to help them continue to learn during the summer months.

Kota, a rising junior at Eastview High School, recently launched a new free online tutoring service for kindergarten through eighth-grade students called Geniusprep.

“The coronavirus has drastically changed many of our lives, from schools going online to social distancing becoming the new norm. In these uncertain times, I wanted to make sure that every child was still able to receive the help they needed with school,” she said. “Education is a powerful tool that can steer students in the right direction and a bright future.”

Before COVID-19 forced the closure of school buildings in March, Kota said she was involved with the speech and debate team and competed in the public forum format for debate. In speech, she competed in the original oratory category.

She’s also a figure skater who competes with the District 196 team, the Icettes, and plays the piano.

Kota responded by email to questions from the newspaper about Geniusprep.

What circumstances led you to come up with the idea for starting Geniusprep?

I always knew that I wanted to help people in any way I could. As the coronavirus drastically changed our life, distance learning was one of the many new things introduced into our lives. While teachers tried their best, the quality of education was compromised. Especially for the younger students, as there’s only so much you can teach over a computer screen. Summer is already a time where many students forget the material they learned previously, so adding distance learning on top of that made it even worse. Also, I always knew that I wanted to make learning fun. As a child, my parents took me to multiple learning centers over the summer. They never were fun and made me dislike learning. To solve both of these problems, I came up with Geniusprep.

Who helped you get it off the ground?

No one person helped me launch Geniusprep. I built the website, and still, continuously update it as I get new tutors. I also created the curriculum that the tutors use to teach the students (using materials found online). But in terms of moral support, I have to give my parents a big pat on the back. They’ve believed in me throughout the whole process and always made sure that I believed in myself. Their continual support in Geniusprep means the world to me.

When did you launch it and how did you recruit the tutors?

I launched my website at the end of June but started brainstorming how to make my vision a reality at the beginning of June. I first asked my close friends to be tutors, as I knew that they were motivated to help people. As more students started signing up, I asked my friends and acquaintances to be tutors. Then, once I exhausted all my contacts, I asked my friends to ask their friends. If a tutor was on the younger side, or if I didn’t know them too well, I interviewed them before adding them to the Geniusprep team. I did this so the quality of the tutors wouldn’t go down.

Who are the types of people who are tutoring? How many students are they serving to date?

Right now, all of our tutors are either in high school or college. The majority of our tutors are going into 11th and 12th grade in high school. All of our high school tutors are in or have taken honors/advanced classes. The majority of students who are currently getting tutored are going into grades 1-6, though we do have a couple of seventh- and eighth-graders. Currently, we have 73 tutoring sessions going on. We currently have 34 tutors from around the United States. We have tutors in Minnesota, New Jersey, Illinois, and Florida!

Where are most of the students being served coming from?

Our tutoring service has spread solely by word of mouth. We started with a couple of students, who then told their friends and so on. Also, if parents like our service, they often tell their friends about Geniusprep. I am guessing most of our students live in the Twin Cities area but, I don’t know for sure. I know that we have a couple of students who live in New Jersey and North Carolina. When I was tutoring a student, we were talking about schools, and I found out he lived in New Jersey! It was a complete surprise, but from that, I learned to never underestimate the power of the internet.

Explain how the service works.

When a parent signs their child up, they have the option of having their child be tutored in math, English, or both. Parents state the days and times they are available. Then we find a tutor who is available at the same time as them. When matching a tutor to a student, we look at the tutors’ skill level and then try to have the advanced tutors teach the older students, and the younger tutors teach the younger students. The tutor then sends out a Zoom code to the parent, and that’s how they have lessons every week.

What future plans do you have for Geniusprep if it continues to grow?

Genisuprep is only through the summer. In the future, I hope to expand Geniusprep to an international service so people from other countries can also benefit from our service.

Is there anything you want to add?

View our website at https://www.geniusprep.org. Also, if you see a problem in our community and come up with a solution, don’t be afraid to implement your solution. It might seem like an absurd idea in the beginning, but in the end, it will work out!

Patty Dexter can be reached at patty.dexter@apgecm.com.

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