As schools across the country rushed into restrictions brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic, dramatically reshaping the in-school experience to remote learning, students suddenly faced a myriad of new challenges, from access to computers and internet to finding private space to participate in Zoom classes and do their schoolwork. While families with means have hired teachers and nannies to help, some even forming “pods” for small group learning with classmates, those in middle and lower socioeconomic districts have been largely left to manage on their own. That got Arielle Andrews, JD ’21, thinking about how to help students in need, often people of color, during the pandemic—and beyond.
“I knew some of my classmates at Stanford Law might be good tutors and would help bridge the gap,” she says. She shared the idea with friends from her undergraduate days at NYU, and they spent the summer planning and building a website and online communications platform. In September, they launched Lesson Check-In, a nonprofit “created by young, Black professionals, who strive to uplift students and give back to the communities that raised them,” as Andrews says. They have 100 volunteers signed up to date, college and graduate students jumping in to provide free academic outreach and art programs to junior high and high school students across the country. Anderson found her volunteers by connecting with her networks.
“I reached out to Black Student Unions and BLSAs. Most of our volunteers are law students—from Stanford, Cornell, Columbia, Michigan, Berkeley, UVA, NYU, and Georgetown Law,” she says, adding that there are also medical and mathematics students. And she found the students they serve by posting notices on neighborhood listservs and by word of mouth. Already, Lesson Check-In is a D.C. public schools partner.
Key to their success is community building and family involvement. “We’re unique in that we require a parent orientation and meeting with our volunteer right at the beginning, so we know how best to help the student. Most of the other platforms are 1-1 with students,” Andrews says. Michelle Portillo, JD ’21, found that helpful.
“My mentee is just starting junior high school. I met with her mother and we talked at length about her daughter’s goals. Getting a sense of what parents expect and also what they see as the greatest need for their child are very useful,” she says. Portillo describes her mentee as “bright and ambitious,” but shy. In addition to checking in on schoolwork, they’re reading books together and discussing them as a way to get to know each other (they’re starting with I Am Malala). The two Zoom or talk on the phone twice each week. “She’s a first gen student, like me. She wants to be a doctor. I was her age when I decided I wanted to be a lawyer. I’m excited to be part of her blossoming.”
Andrews points to her Stanford Law network and classes as key to launching Lesson Check-In—and to its ongoing success. One law class in particular, Problem Solving and Decision Making was particularly helpful. “Ari is an independent thinker and a force of nature. Her project for my problem solving class involved creating a prayer space for Muslim students, which she accomplished through creative advocacy. I hope that the course gave her the strategic tools to help with her new organization and perhaps other social entrepreneurship ventures in the future,” says former dean Paul Brest, professor emeritus at SLS.