Kush Bhatia/ Used with permission
ACT. SAT. PSAT. If you’re a student, these letters are all too familiar. The multitude of standardized testing options can be daunting, but seniors Andy Chai (12), Haneef Usmani (12), Justin Choi (12) and Aryan Rajesh (12) sought to make the experience less challenging by founding 901 Tutoring, a free test prep service for Memphis-area high school students.
“We found out that a lot of people during quarantine didn’t really have access to as many tutors or resources as they probably would normally,” Chai said.
Establishing this service was no small task, as the students soon discovered. They first created a website from scratch and recruited 15 tutors to volunteer their time with the program.
“Designing the website and having to start it from the ground up, it was a lot of stress,” Chai said. “It was a burden on me, and I think the most difficult thing is already in the past.”
After the organization was created, Chai and others recruited Kush Bhatia (12) to work on community outreach. In the beginning, he worked as a tutor, but has since taken a step back to focus on growing the program.
“I knew that I wanted to get involved and do something for the community,” Bhatia said. “I’ve never had volunteer experience, and I thought, ‘Maybe this is a good way, something that we start.’”
901 Tutoring mostly caters to White Station students, but is still an independent organization. This, as a result, provides greater flexibility and the ability to guide the program in the direction they choose.
“I think the best part is that we can take this however we want,” Bhatia said. “In the beginning, we were like, ‘Ok, we have to do this with White Station.’ So we got in contact with Ms. Holland, but soon after we realized that we’re not really restricted to White Station. We can do whatever.”
The founders hope to expand the program’s reach to more students around Shelby County. Even as more colleges are removing standardized testing requirements, Bhatia still feels that tests are as important as ever during the college admissions process.
“Even though schools are test optional, we realized that for some students… not sending a score is kind of scary while going through this whole process,” Bhatia said. “I think students still just want a comfortable or reassuring feeling that they have something to still send.”
The program’s tutors meet with groups of students weekly to cover a wide range of subject areas. William Smith (12) serves as one of the volunteer tutors. For each virtual Zoom session, he creates a presentation and lesson plan centered around a subject area. “[My favorite part is] how inquisitive the students are,” Smith said. “They have a lot of questions, and I can use my experience to tell them about it.”
In addition to his standardized testing expertise, Smith sees the program as a way to advise younger students.
“They also have questions that don’t regard standardized tests,” Smith said. “They’ll also ask, ‘How do you balance high school?’ or ‘How are you managing time better?’”
Providing a free tutoring service is personal for Smith, who plans on becoming a first generation college student. Since he has received support and guidance throughout the admissions process from others, he feels motivated to give back.
“It just creates a level of personal connection,” Smith said. “I’ve been through this, you’re going through this, let’s go through this together.”