John P. Stevens High School students create free tutoring service, which spans 14 chapters, three countries

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EDISON – When Divyesh Jevtani learned about LimitlessMinds – a free tutoring service run by high school students – from his son’s school principal, he jumped at the opportunity to sign up his son Vinay.

“My son was missing the one-to-one interaction with a teacher,” he said, adding Vinay was in the second grade at the time and is now a rising third grader. “Our tutor communicates with me after each session on what they covered and the homework for the week. She is very patient with Vinay and adjusts the curriculum per his own learning pace.”

The Edison School District transitioned to remote learning in March after it had to close schools due to the novel coronavirus pandemic.

Manan Shah and Linda Liu, who will be seniors at John P. (JP) Stevens High School in the fall, teamed up to form LimitlessMinds Inc., a non-profit organization that matches K-8 students with volunteer tutors in their community to provide free 1:1 virtual tutoring in academics.

Manan said as he adjusted to online schooling, he realized that many other students including his younger cousins and friends, shared the same challenges that he was facing with the unexpected transition. Through his experiences in Boy Scouts over the past decade and his service as the vice president of a local teen volunteer conservation unit, giving back has always been one of his core values.

That’s when he thought of recruiting volunteer high school students to provide free virtual tutoring to K-8 students.

“When Manan approached me with the idea, immediately I loved it,” Linda said.

The two high school students brainstormed a name for their idea, “Limitless” for Linda and “Minds” for Manan and created a logo.

They launched their idea on April 8 through their own social media and with the help from JP Stevens Principal Anthony Shallop, they were able to spread the word about their organization to middle and elementary school principals, who sent out their information to parents.

“Manan and Linda were driven to make a real difference in supporting those around them,” Shallop said. “They reached out to me with an idea to establish a network of student tutor volunteers to help the younger students in our district transition to remote learning and provide continued support. Together we worked on the logistics and rolled it out.”

Shallop said the school motto for the 2019-20 school year was, “If not me … then who?”

“When we shifted to remote learning, I stressed the importance of this mantra, encouraging our students to support one another and their surrounding communities,” he said. “So many students did just that.”

Donna Abatemarco, principal at James Madison Intermediate School, said the transition to remote learning was a challenge for everyone.

“Manan and Linda were experiencing the obstacles of remote learning firsthand and saw an opportunity to do something positive,” she said. “Within a few weeks, they were able to organize an incredible tutoring service to help our students navigate through the challenges of remote learning. In addition to supporting the students academically, the high school tutors also served as role models by showing our younger students what it takes to persevere through tough times. Manan and Linda’s initiative is a shining example of how individuals can come together to help each other as a community.”

Mike Seiler, principal for James Madison Primary School, said when Manan and Linda reached out to him and shared their vision, he immediately jumped on board.

“It is always great when we can work together as a district to support not only our students, but in this case, the families of our students,” he said. “As a parent myself, I knew how difficult it was to keep up with work and teaching my son at home. Having this support for the parents and the students was a huge support that enabled students to grow and to take some of the pressure off of the parents.”

Seiler said Edison is filled with many creative, talented and smart students.

“This is just another example of how they rise to a challenge to support other students and community,” he said. “I am really proud of their efforts.”

From April to now, LimitlessMinds took off. The organization has 300 volunteer high school tutors spanning 14 chapters and three countries.

There are chapters in East Brunswick, Iselin, Marlboro and West Windsor-Plainsboro and New York City, Houston, and the capital cities of Pakistan and El Salvador. The organization recently reached more than 1,700 tutoring hours.

Manan said he had two friends from Scotch Plains reach out to him to volunteer as tutors. With the realization the service could span to Scotch Plains, his friends spread the service to their area. Then Linda reached out to people she knew from East Brunswick and the chapters snowballed from there.

“We’ve had people reach out from Hawaii and California where we don’t have chapters yet,” Manan said. “In those cases, we still want to help them so we just matched them with another chapter.”

The chapter in Edison is the largest chapter. Manan and Linda manage volunteer tutoring inquiries and tutee inquiries through a form.

“A student indicates what grade they are in, what subject they need help with and what times they are available, and we match tutors and tutees with similar availability and alignment of subjects,” Linda said.

The impetus of LimitlessMinds was to provide help to the community during COVID-19, the high school students said.

“As it grew, we realized we could morph into a free tutoring service because tutoring can be very expensive,” Linda said.

Manan and Linda said the feedback from parents, teachers and principals have been amazing and rewarding.

“We even had a retired teacher from another district who sent us a letter in the mail thanking both of us for our efforts,” Manan said.

Linda said she not not only loves that their organization provides tutoring where a student can improve in their academics, but it also creates a bond – kind of like an older sibling type bond – which is important in a time where people may feel isolated.

“This way they can see other people and have that connection to the outside world and get to know someone,” she said.

Also, tutors are able to receive volunteer hours through the service.

For more information, visit http://www.limitlessmindsinc.org/.