On today ‘s show, Lori speaks with our most recent recipient of SENIA ‘s World Changer award; Courtney Wong. Courtney is a high school student in California and is the founder and president of Tutors4Stars, a youth organization that provides free learning opportunities for neurodiverse students through online private and group lessons. Courtney gained experience as a volunteer by teaching art and music classes locally as well as operating the San Diego chapter for the non-profit organization SN Inclusion. So she ‘s a busy high school student, and she hopes to continue supporting the neurodiverse community in their academic and personal growth as she gets older. Courtney is here today to tell us about her advocacy work and her inspiration behind starting this magnificent program.
Resources mentioned on today ‘s show:
Courtney attends Torrey Pines High School and will graduate with the class of 2023. She is the founder and president of Tutors4Stars, a youth organization that provides free learning opportunities for neurodiverse students through online private and group lessons. Courtney gained experience as a volunteer by teaching art and music classes locally as well as operating the San Diego chapter for the non-profit organization SN Inclusion. She hopes to continue supporting the neurodiverse community in their academic and personal growth. In her free time, Courtney likes to figure skate and watch figure skating competitions in-person and remotely. She also enjoys listening to music and learning new things.
Transcribed by Kanako Suwa
[ Introduction music plays ]
Welcome to the SENIA Happy Hour with your host, Lori Boll. We know you ‘re busy so we bring you 1 hour of content in under thirty minutes, leaving you time for a true happy hour.
Lori: Well, hello everyone. Just a note to say welcome to 2022. It ‘s been a while, we took a little break but we are back. All of us at SENIA are so excited for this upcoming year. We have tons of new initiatives for you and one we’re working on at the moment is our SENIA certification program. This is a perfect program for beginning to intermediate level learning support teachers, general education teachers who wish to learn more about supporting all students, parents, or teaching assistants. Educators, you would take six courses and then become SENIA certified. Please visit our SENIA International website for more information or find the link in our show notes. Courses can be taken at any time and in any order so it’s a rolling enrollment, so be really excited! We hope you join us.
Now, moving on to the podcast”¦ I am super excited to introduce today’s podcast guest, Courtney Wong. Courtney is a high school student in California and a recent winner of our SENIA World Changer Award and with good reason. Courtney is the founder and president of Tutors4Stars, which is a youth organisation that provides free learning opportunities for neurodiverse students through online private and group lessons. Courtney gained experience as a volunteer by teaching art and music classes locally as well as operating the San Diego chapter for the nonprofit organisation, SN Inclusion, which I recommend you check out and again that link is in our show notes. So Courtney is a busy high school student and she hopes to continue supporting the neurodiverse community in their academic and personal growth as she gets older. Courtney is here today to tell us about her advocacy work and her inspiration behind starting this magnificent program. Courtney is a youth Advocate who makes me very hopeful for the future.
and now onto the show. Hi Courtney and welcome to the podcast!
Lori: Well, you are one incredible person and I ‘m excited to have the opportunity to chat with you today about your advocacy.
Courtney: Thank you, thank you so much.
Lori: So you started an organisation called Tutors4Stars with the number 4, and we’ll have that website address in our show notes, but first of all, what inspired you to start Tutors4Stars?
Courtney: So I started my organisation in the summer of 2020 and that’s when the pandemic was kicking off and everyone thought that we would be able to go back in person to do in person activities by the end of 2020″¦ but now it ‘s still ongoing, we don’t know like when it’ll end. Some people say that it will end in 5 years, which is like an enormous estimate. So what inspired me to start my organisation was when we went into the pandemic, I saw like how the neurodiverse community was struggling to be able to find some outside help on their academics and I also noticed that through my siblings who are both diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder so I decided to create like a group, where we all met together and we like focused on academic subjects and also played online games.
Lori: Aww, I love that!
Courtney: So yeah, ah, thank you! And my mom, actually supported me a lot with this organization as well as my dad so like my whole family was really happy that I was doing this sort of initiative and that’s when I decided to create a website and here I am.
Lori: Wow! So how many people do you think your website reaches now?
Courtney: So my website creator actually has an analytics, a set of analytics that I can look at any time, so right now I could see that over 500 people visited from the past 12 months.
Lori: Wow. And it ‘s only going to grow from here, I ‘m sure. That’s fantastic and how old are your brothers?
Courtney: I have a brother and sister so my brother is 14 so he’s a freshman and my sister is in 6th grade so she’s 11.
Lori: And do they benefit from the program as well yet?
Courtney: Yeah, they get lots of help from the tutors and they’re really happy to be able to hang out with someone online.
Lori: Okay so how old are the students that you tutor? Any age or”¦?
Courtney: So it’s mostly Elementary, but there ‘s actually like some students who are in middle and high school so the range is around K-12″¦
Lori: Wow, that ‘s a big range! That’s impressive and I’m just really curious”¦ you said that you played online games with everyone. What types of games did you play?
Courtney: What’s really popular among the students is hangman so like everyone starts laughing whenever we like get the letter wrong and it’s really hilarious and it’s a really great experience and atmosphere.
Lori: I bet! It’s really nice that you’ve made those connections with the neurodiverse community. I’m curious how they’re interacting with you through”¦ do you do it through Zoom? How is that going for them?
Courtney: So for Zoom, sometimes the students do not always like to sit in front of the screen”¦ sometimes they like to just get up and run around so usually what we do is like have the parents help them throughout the lesson. But sometimes the students can also learn independently. So what we do in order to accommodate the students is to create like frequent breaks. We also tell the tutors to give the students frequent breaks so they can be able to get up and stretch before continuing on with the session.
Lori: That ‘s definitely best practice, indeed, so well done. And how did you naturally know how to support those students?
Courtney: So when I was in middle school, my sister and brother were enrolled in this program called AMASE so it’s short for Academy of Music and Art for special education. And the volunteer requirements required that you had to be in high school in order to volunteer, so I was too young at the time. But I went and I also saw the high schoolers helping with that organisation. And when it was my time to go to high school, I also applied to be a volunteer and was accepted so I got the experience of working with children with special needs. And also my brother and sister also have their speech therapy going on, so sometimes I accompany my parents to pick them up and also see how the environment is and so I also got a bunch of exposure from that.
Lori: Amazing”¦ so tell me what your favourite part of running a youth-led organisation is.
Courtney: So when I was getting volunteers to help me and also tutor students in the organisation, I met a bunch of people who are also interested in the same thing and I was and I find that really cool because I was able to relate to them and connect with them that way. And I also have a bunch of new friends because of this.
Lori: Oh, that ‘s great! That ‘s great! And so, these are people from your high school or from surroudning area or?
Courtney: Yeah, so most of the volunteers are from San Diego, understandably most of them were from my high school because I talked to them and they were like okay let’s do it. But we also have volunteers from the San Francisco area as well.
Lori: Oh, cool. And did you put the volunteers through any kind of training programme?
Courtney: Yeah, so actually when tutors sign up and they find like a student that they could be able to tutor, I share, I go into Google Drive and share a folder that is specifically made for the tutors. So there ‘s a bunch of resources and subjects where you can find links for resources that they can use to teach the students as well as games that they can play when it ‘s break time and the students feel like it. And there ‘s also like a slide that gives information about how you can support students with special needs through Zoom, so we specifically cater the content so they can have all the resources they need to have the best experience.
Lori: Oh jeez, that ‘s just really impressive, it really is.
Courtney: Thank you.
Lori: So you ‘ve talked about matching the students. How does that pairing work?
Courtney: So some of the things we ask, the stuff we ask, is how, what time, what are the availabilities of the students and the tutors and what subjects the students want to learn, and the tutors want to teach, and so we look at what the student and the tutor would have in common. And so I would pair the tutor and the student based on their needs, and I also have an additional section for the students where they can put the things they like and dislike and any accommodations they need during the lesson so I also send that information to the tutors so they know what to expect.
Lori: Wow. And would you say any relationships have developed between the tutors and the students being tutored as in some friendships?
Courtney: Yeah, so my mom calls it an “online friendship” and sometimes the tutor and the student will meet in person if they were able to, so what one of the tutors and the student is doing right now is doing like a sport, a sport hangout, so like they would go to a park and play some sports. So we ‘re kind of adjusting to the in-person things but we ‘re sticking to the online sessions because of what is happening in the world right now.
Lori: Yeah, exactly. But I love that you know, it seems like the tutors are kind of branchin out and meeting on their own with their students and just joining them in their interests. That ‘s great! What are some of your best moments during your time with your organisation?
Courtney: So definitely last summer in 2021, I decided to hold like a summer group. It ‘s called summer camp in my organisation so I sent out forms for tutors who were interested in earning additional hours for tutoring during the summer. Because some people decided to take a break for the summer because school ended so why not take a break? But some tutors who are really dedicated to tutoring, they would sign up and the students who would like to join the group was set up. So what the camp consisted of was only group classes so we would have a different schedule every day. So one day we would do some reading, the other day we would play BrainPOP videos for science and we would also share some fun facts with the students and do arts crafts, and we also play some fun videos so we tried to make the camp fun and everyone enjoyed it.
Lori: That ‘s exciting! How old were the students in the camp?
Courtney: So the students were also, it was probably more of a range, probably around 4th grade to high school.
Lori: So what should the tutors at your organisation expect when they sign up to be a tutor?
Courtney: So they already know that they ‘ll be tutoring a student given the information on the website and also on the social media accounts, so they should expect like an email from me, so I send them who they ‘re going to be tutoring and how to contact them. And the email would state that they would have to reach out to the parent of the student to schedule the initial session to see what the students interests are and figure out how they would format their session in order to accommodate the student. And I would share with them the folder that I mentioned earlier.
Lori: Have you had any parent feedback of the students that are being tutored?
Courtney: Yeah so my mom is close to many of the students ‘ parents so they would sometimes, when I meet them in person, they would say “wow I ‘m so proud of you Courtney, this is really cool!” and I ‘d be like.. “Thank you!”
Lori: That ‘s nice. That ‘s great. Well, do you have any tips for anyone who is looking to start their own organisation as a student?
Courtney: Yeah, so for the students out there who want to start an organisation or initiative, if you ‘re really interested in something and you want to extend on that, it would be really cool to start an organisation. And when you start an organisation, building a website would be really good for promoting and explaining and getting across your mission statement for your organisation. Because the clearer your statement, your mission statement is, the more people will be interested and it would be more well known. And also, social media is really good for marketing and exposure, so yeah. Try to use some social media. And also get some people in your team, to form a team that is interested in the same interests you have and so they ‘ll be able to”¦ when you create a team, you ‘ll be stronger and you ‘ll have a really successful initative.
Lori: Right, yeah! I love that you ‘re in 11th grade and youre talking about marketing and things that, when I was in 11th grade, I didn ‘t know about!
Courtney: Yeah, I ‘m in a business class right now and we just read a textbook on marketing.
Lori: Oh okay, cool! That ‘s great! Well, you are truly awesome, you ‘re an inspiration, and you do so much. But can I ask you”¦What do you do to take care of yourself?
Courtney: So what I do to take care of myself”¦ so my mom tells me to keep a journal so I record my thoughts, and so when I’m not feeling okay, I’ll look at my journal and see how I can address that. So keeping a journal is really effective, I learned, and thanks to my mom, now I have a journal that I ‘ve had for quite a while.
Lori: Yeah, wow, that ‘s great. I know high school students that are so driven to advocate or to help others oftentimes forget about themselves so I ‘m glad to hear you ‘re taking a little time for yourself. What do you hope to accomplish in 2022?
Courtney: So, it ‘s already been about a month into 2022 and so I hope to have accomplish to find more people who are interested in my organisation, and also do some outreach to other organisations to see if we can collab, and some goals is to definitely have a better balance in my life so that means getting more sleep. I ‘m not a big sleeper, even though I absolutely love to sleep, so yeah, getting more sleep definitely, expanding my organisation, and just like, getting involved in my interests and always doing something more productive.
Lori: Yeah, that ‘s great. And I ‘m not sure if you know this, or the audience knows this, but SENIA has a youth organisation as well, so we have a branch of SENIA youth and the youth-led organisation is very strong and a powerful group so I ‘ll introduce you so you can connect.
Courtney: Thank you!
Lori: Do you have any, and this is not pressure to answer, but I ‘m just curious, but do you have an idea of what your future holds in advocacy?
Courtney: So in the future, if I were to.. I ‘ll probably lean towards psychology, since it ‘s probably the most interesting subject so far, and so I ‘m definitely going to work on applying, doing college applications for senior year”¦ I know it ‘s going to be tough according to what my senior friends tell me but I ‘ll just have to go through it and persevere and in the future, I also want to help more students and children like my brother and sister. I ‘m hoping that i can also do some outreach on that.
Lori: That ‘s great! Well, Courtney, I think that ‘s all we have time for today. So first off, thank you for being you. Thank you for advocating for our children with neurodiverse needs, thank you for building your Tutors4Stars. It ‘s absolutely fabulous.
Courtney: Thank you!
Thank you for joining us for today ‘s show. For more information including how to subscribe and show notes, please head to our website. That ‘s SENIAinternational.org/podcast. Until next time, cheers.