Ankitha Kumar

Ankitha Kumar

Eagan High School senior Ankitha Kumar, 17, of Inver Grove Heights was recently named one of Minnesota’s top youth volunteers of 2021 by The Prudential Spirit of Community Awards, America’s largest youth recognition program based exclusively on volunteer service.

Last year Kumar started a free online tutoring service after the COVID-19 pandemic halted her in-person tutoring sessions, a service that has now expanded to encompass 17 volunteer tutors and more than 300 students across the United States and overseas.

For three years prior to the pandemic, Kumar had tutored children at the Good Neighbor Center, a facility that provides underserved youth with a meal and a safe space for academic support. But in March of 2020, the center had to close temporarily because of the virus.

“A lot of the kids would text me and say they had 15 assignments missing already and they needed help,” Kumar said.

So she called the center director and offered to begin tutoring online.

With the help of a few friends, Kumar set up a website to connect students with a free tutor.

As demand for her “ConneXions” service grew, she recruited and trained more tutors, and created individualized lesson plans in core subjects as well as in computer science, foreign languages, public speaking and ACT preparation.

To amplify her impact, she asked teachers in 12 school districts in Minnesota to identify students who might benefit from extra help.

Kumar estimates that she and her fellow tutors have now logged more than 1,500 hours tutoring kids from nearly all 50 states and 12 foreign countries. Test scores for ConneXions students have increased by more than 30 percent, Kumar said, but the most important outcome has been a boost in student confidence.

“Students who thought they could never be good at math now believe they can achieve anything they set their minds to,” she said. “Students who thought they could never graduate high school are now on track to be first-generation college students.”

Kumar will receive a $2,500 scholarship, a silver medallion and an invitation to the program’s virtual national recognition celebration in April, when 10 of the 102 State Honorees will be named America’s top youth volunteers of the year.

Those 10 National Honorees will earn an additional $5,000 scholarship, a gold medallion, a crystal trophy for their nominating organization and a $5,000 grant for a nonprofit charitable organization of their choice.

The Prudential Spirit of Community Awards, conducted annually by Prudential Financial in partnership with the National Association of Secondary School Principals, honors students in grades 5-12 for making meaningful contributions to their communities through volunteer service.

“We created the Prudential Spirit of Community Awards 26 years ago to highlight and support the work of young people taking on the challenges of a changing world – a mission that rings truer than ever given the events of last year,” said Charles Lowrey, Prudential’s chairman and CEO. “We are proud to celebrate the vision and determination of Spirit of Community’s Class of 2021, and all the ways they’re making their communities safer, healthier and more equitable places to live.”

A story about ConneXions ran in the July 10 editions of the Sun Thisweek and the Dakota County Tribune and is available online at hometownsource.com/sun_thisweek/community/apple_valley/tutoring-group-helps-kids-catch-up.

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