Shannon Suo

Tutor Evan Chan (on screen), a junior at Clements High School, helps Shannon Suo (left) identify clauses in a short story during a Dec. 24 tutoring session. Gladiator Tutoring, a free tutoring service, was formed by Clements High School students Paige Suo and Ami Chou to give accessible, virtual academic aid to pre-kindergarten through 8th grade students during the COVID-19 pandemic. (Contributed photo)

By STEFAN MODRICH

smodrich@fortbendstar.com

What do a group of ambitious students from Clements High School who want to spend their free time educating their younger peers have in common with warriors from ancient Rome?

At first glance, not much. But allow one of the founders of Gladiator Tutoring to explain.

“Ami (Chou) and I agreed that this was a really memorable name,” Paige Suo said. “And growing up, I’ve always been interested in ancient Roman culture and have come to see the term ‘gladiator’ and the ancient warriors of the time as a symbol of strength, and how to persevere through difficult times.”

After learning about the difficult academic and financial situations many families with young children have found themselves in throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, Suo and Chou, sophomores at Clements, imagined a tutoring service that Suo said was “easily accessible, 100 percent free, and had a purpose to aid parents and their children by dedicating time to help them retain information.”

Gladiator Tutoring (GT) emerges into the academic arena still very much in its infancy. The website (gladiatortutoring.org), which was created by Grace Li, also a sophomore at Clements, has only been live for about two weeks, and the organization has been holding some of its first remote sessions over that same span.

Gladiator Tutoring Logo 2

Chou said GT has had 32 students sign up for sessions so far. She said scheduling has been a challenge to maintain on top of everyone else’s course loads as full-time students.

Clements principal David Yaffie and Fort Bend ISD’s media relations office did not respond to phone calls and emails seeking comment.

Linda Zhang, the mother of Jeremiah Zhang, a second-grader at Austin Parkway Elementary in Sugar Land, said she can feel the passion Suo and Chou have for her child’s academic success even through their email correspondence, bonding with Jeremiah over shared interests like Pokemon.

“The tutors are so full of love and enthusiasm,” she said. “They make me say, ‘Really, this is my kid?’ As a parent, I can say this is very meaningful that these tutors are like a role model for my son.”

Suo said she has kept a log of the time spent working on the tutoring service since Nov. 29, which thus far has exceeded 155 hours. The group spent 20 hours over two days conducting remote interviews and simulated tutoring sessions to arrive at its current number of 11 tutors, all of whom are FBISD students, according to the group’s website.

“Paige and I felt that we wanted to give fair opportunities to people, especially younger children, because there’s a lot of families who don’t have the financial backing to receive tutoring,” Chou said.

Ami Chou

Ami Chou

Paige Suo

Paige Suo

Added Suo: “Ami and I created this completely separate from our school, and everything was paid out of the money we saved. All the hours we spent working on this was in addition to our regular school work.”

Accessing a GT course only requires a device with an internet connection and email address.

“Gladiator Tutoring was created as a capstone project that was meant to give back to our community by making resources that were accessible to only a fraction of children become free for all,” Suo said. “If we charge for our services, then Gladiator Tutoring would become a for-profit business, which does not line up with our ideals.”

Suo said her organization has managed to cover out of pocket everything from website expenses, to Zoom Pro and paying for online student lessons as primers for tutors to help them gain a deeper understanding of the subjects they are covering.

Suo said about 20 percent of the visitors to her site come from outside of Texas, and only half visit the website from an area in Fort Bend, and that she takes pride in being able to offer the website’s services to anyone who needs them.

Arthur Vo, also a sophomore at Clements, has worked with Daniel Duan, a seventh-grader at Quail Valley Middle School, on algebra.

Alex Wu

Alex Wu (left) and tutor Pearl Oyewole (on screen), a freshman at Clements High School, discuss integrated development environments during a Dec. 28 tutoring session on coding and computer programming. Gladiator Tutoring, a free tutoring service, was formed by Clements High School students Paige Suo and Ami Chou to give accessible, virtual academic aid to pre-K-8th grade students during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Daniel was very attentive all the time,” Vo said. “And I feel like I was doing a decent job because at the end of it I felt like he learned a lot. I’m really looking forward to helping more kids in general. Hopefully we get more people to join and sign up for our tutoring sessions as well.”

Duan said he found the tutors at GT to be helpful to his academic development.

“He really helped me engage into the subject,” Duan said. “His explanations were really clear and even the new things he introduced to me were easy to understand.”

Pearl Oyewole, a freshman at Clements, said her goal is to help make computer programming and coding more accessible at the middle school level, since high school is often the first time many students are introduced to those more advanced subjects.

“Little kids, you can teach them many different subjects, it doesn’t matter how old you are,” Oyewole said. “You can still learn with the right resources.”

Suo said the entire experience has been “a learning curve” and that she and her team are making steady, incremental improvements with each session.

“Little by little, we are learning how to improve ourselves as well while also improving the education of others,” Suo said. “So I feel like it’s a very mutually beneficial relationship with us and the children.”

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