OUR STORY SO FAR...
My name is Jessie Pitsillides, I’m a 17 year old sixth form student from London and I am the founder of Mentor Jr.
I started Mentor Jr. because I believe that if inequality starts anywhere, it starts with education. It is clear that a good education can change lives for the better. It is also clear that there is a huge disparity in the kind of education that children receive. I have tutored children for a long time and have seen first hand that the time and resources of their schools and parents, their postcode and even their self-belief and attitudes towards learning all play a role. On top of this, the pressure to do well on public exams or competition for school places can be fierce. This inevitably creates stress and leads to parents trying to give their kids any advantage they can, working with them on past papers for hours, enrolling them in extra weekend classes or hiring tutors to help. All of this can be both extremely time consuming and expensive and so can serve to widen the education gap and limit the opportunities of those kids without the same access or resources. This to me seemed unfair, but also, it seemed like a problem that I could potentially do something about.
I was already giving up my time to tutor primary school children and I thought that if I could scale what I was already doing, essentially giving up a bit of time each week to mentor and tutor kids who otherwise couldn't access it, then many more students and families could benefit.
The idea was simple: I would build a team that offered state primary school children free after-school educational mentoring and homework support, by recruiting bright, motivated students from secondary schools who were also passionate about education and wanted to volunteer their time. I assembled the initial group of five tutors from my own school and began contacting primaries in my local area. I met with teachers to learn more about the students who would benefit from the program and understand their educational needs. We then matched students with tutors based on their unique needs and interests. The kids were really receptive; I think the notion of having someone not that much older than them to learn from and talk to was appealing and the scheme was having success. We all genuinely loved working with the kids and we are getting great feedback from not only the kids themselves but from parents and teachers too.
After two terms, we got into a really good rhythm and the project began to grow. However, when COVID-19 hit, we could no longer do school visits. This was a blow as not only had we formed bonds with the students and schools but we were making a difference- a tangible difference we could see. The notion that I would now need to pause everything felt wrong- it simply wasn't an option. Instead I decided to use the time I had during lockdown to move the whole initiative online. So, I built this site, and reached out to students from other secondary schools to join me and after a couple of days of testing the whole process with friends and ironing out the many tech glitches I published my site. I was clear that I wanted Mentor Jr. to be made accessible to as many kids and families as possible, so in order to spread the word, I reached out to my old hockey and gymnastic coaches, moms that I babysat for and promoted the platform on community websites. It was amazing how many students we were able to reach. Within just a week we booked 47 tutoring sessions and at the time of writing this we have over 70 tutors on the platform and have completed hundreds of tutoring hours and can now offer tutoring and mentoring 7 days a week - all for free.
The programme has been recognised for its social impact and has been discussed in the national press and on radio. I genuinely feel that out of anything I’ve managed to accomplish during my time at school, this is by far the thing that I'm proudest of. The notion that this simple idea has managed to impact people in the way that it has and more importantly that it went from being ‘my little project’ to a resource of genuine value to people and one that will hopefully continue to grow and continue evening-out those playing fields means the world to me. So whether you are a young person that wants to give back to their community by becoming one of our junior mentors or a parent looking for quality mentoring or tutoring for your child, thank-you for visiting Mentor Jr. and I hope you become part of our brilliant team!