In a few years time, hundreds of yeshiva students at schools across the country will have enhanced grades, improved confidence and better prospects as they apply for high schools, gap year programs or colleges, all thanks to the vision and determination of a 16-year-old girl in North Woodmere, New York.
Leah Solomon, an 11th-grade student at the Manhattan High School for Girls in New York City, watched with the rest of us as the fundamentals of schooling changed abruptly during the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic. She recalled the positive experience she had in the ninth grade serving as an online tutor for a lower-income boy in Florida, as part of the nonprofit Learn to Be. She saw the need for a similar service within the observant Jewish community, to offer low-cost secular and Limudei Kodesh tutoring by high school students for elementary school students.
She shared her vision with her parents, Nicole and Simcha Solomon, and they became eager supporters. Then she considered the initial startup and promotion costs.
As Leah described: “My dad saw an article written about Klal Ventures in a local Jewish magazine. We had already been thinking about starting a volunteer tutoring program, so he showed this opportunity to me and suggested we submit a proposal for initial grant funding.”
Klal Ventures was founded by a pair of Jewish entrepreneurs in the spring of 2020, with the expressed purpose of funding projects that would “meaningfully respond to the challenges of the COVID-19 time,” said Zevy Wolman, co-founder of Klal Ventures and CEO of Make It Real, a toy manufacturer based in Maryland.
Leah’s proposal was accepted, receiving $5,000 in June 2020 to assist in marketing, web design and fundraising. After the School Bell got off to a strong start.
After the School Bell promotes itself as “a chessed-based, non-profit organization that matches volunteer high school students with elementary students who need extra academic support. Over our online system, students and tutors connect, schedule tutoring, and meet for weekly, online sessions.”
With Klal Ventures’ support, After the School Bell built an attractive website with portals for prospective tutors and students seeking tutoring, along with information for the parents of the students. Parents are asked to approve the tutor/student match before the tutoring sessions start.
With help from Klal Ventures leaders, Leah began reaching out to Jewish communal organizations and schools across the country to promote the new initiative. Over the next six months she enlisted supporters in 19 different yeshivot in New Jersey, New York, Florida, California and Oregon. Leah credits Rabbi Heshy Glass, founding national chairman of the Consortium of Jewish Day Schools (COJDS) and now a member of After the School Bell’s Chinuch Advisory Board, with helping her make many of these connections.
Meanwhile, Leah’s parents took an active role in the organization. Nicole worked with lawyers at the firm DLA Piper, who agreed to do pro bono work to set up the group as a 501(c)(3) entity, while Simcha, a businessman, fielded all calls from potential partners. Leah calls their role in After the School Bell “instrumental” and is very grateful for their help.
After the School Bell charges the parents of students seeking tutoring the low fee of $18 a month, to help support basic operating costs of the organization.
After The School Bell got its formal start in early 2021, making its first tutor/student match in January. The roster of tutors and students steadily grew, and now 90 students have been paired with 90 tutors, hailing from New York, New Jersey, Michigan, California, Oregon, Florida, Maryland, Washington D.C., Pennsylvania and Georgia. The organization has lined up additional tutors and looks to pair them with more students seeking tutoring.
The response from the parents of students being tutored has been strong and universally positive. Sample testimonials include:
“Yosef is amazing! He gives Michael the confidence he needs to move along with his homework and perform well in class. He has spent time outside the session to create outlines to help Michael do his best.”
“Rivka was really motivating for my daughter. Not only did they complete her homework, they played Kahoot which was so much fun for her.”
“Avi is amazing with Sam, he looks forward to his sessions.”
Asked about the next steps for After The School Bell, Leah said that she’d like to expand the group’s capacity and revamp the website and software to make it more user-friendly. “I’d love to see it benefit even more people,” she said.
Wolman, who described Leah in their initial contacts as “so composed, and so articulate,” is similarly optimistic about the prospects for the group. He now serves as a board member of After The School Bell.
“Klal Ventures was designed to find talented individuals with a vision to create impact that would be meaningful, efficient and scalable,” he said. “Leah’s idea for After the School Bell fit every one of those criteria and then some. We were incredibly impressed by her well thought-out plan and dedication to the cause, and were glad to provide her with funding and connections to help her bring it to fruition.”
For more information on After the School Bell, visit their website: https://aftertheschoolbell.org