It’s 4:00 in the morning, and Jake Du (11) is wide awake. No, he’s not cramming for a test but assisting a student from China to prepare for an English speech competition the next day.
In June 2019, after recognizing the lack of and necessity for English proficiency in the Chinese curriculum, Jake Du and Amanda Zhou (10) created WEnlight, an organization that assists native Chinese students with learning English.
“We both have this sort of passion for entrepreneurship, but also this passion for teaching English,” Du said.
Du and Zhou both have Chinese heritage and are empathetic towards the struggle of Chinese students learning a second language.
“My mom and my dad are both immigrants from China,” Zhou said. “I kind of understand the communication barrier, especially with conversational English.”
Students learning a new language often need conversational practice, rather than just textbooks or written resources. Zhou and Du designed the program around verbal communication and interaction with students.
To establish a foundation for the organization, Du built a website as a platform for information on courses, lessons and student-teacher interactions. Then, Du and Zhou began searching for tutors on a local level.
“At first, it was just from White Station, like our friends that we knew who were interested in this. We slowly started expanding to other states,” Zhou said.
Since then, the organization has expanded to include instructors across the country, with one college professor teaching from New Jersey and another from California.
For instructors, there is more than just the language barrier to navigate around. China is 14 hours ahead of the Central Time Zone, and instructors, including Du, must tutor students at unusual times.
“As a tutor and as a head of this organization, we always prioritize what the student wants. That means waking up at 4:45 to start a lesson for them in the evening. Having to wake up that early seemed like more of a necessity rather than a struggle,” Du said.
Instructor size has grown from an original selective few in Memphis to 11 teachers around the country. Student outreach has also grown, and the organization currently instructs 20 students in English proficiency. It was Du and Zhou’s dutiful commitment to the education of other students that allowed their organization to achieve such growth.