- Brewster Central School District
Sophomore Axel Britez Creates Virtual Tutoring Program
When Brewster High School sophomore Axel Britez noticed his younger brother was struggling with remote learning earlier this year, he decided to do something about it.
“My brother is in second grade and oftentimes had difficulty completing assignments because he couldn't understand the instructions that he was given,” Axel said. “Not being able to read at grade level was affecting him in several ways. He could not work independently, he could not navigate his Google Classroom without assistance, and he felt upset and disappointed at himself for not being able to perform better.”
Witnessing this struggle and feeling frustrated with the lack of opportunities for himself to gain community service hours or do extracurricular activities, Axel decided to tackle both problems at once. He created Lecturama, a free program in which high schoolers help students in grades one through three whose parents struggle to read to them at home because English is not their first language.
“I wanted kids my age to be able to have extracurriculars and community service hours they could showcase and I wanted young kids like my brother to have confidence they could be good students,” Axel said.
He partnered with Brewster Cares, a non-profit dedicated to helping local families. The partnership helped with start-up costs and web platforms and also paired him up with Janice Nastasi, a teaching veteran who stepped in to train Lecturama’s student tutors. By the end of May, Axel and the tutors he recruited completed 121 sessions for 80 hours of tutoring service.
“On a typical day, I would have three to five tutors and two students per tutor,” Axel said. “I would get them warmed up and say hello as they logged into Zoom and then split them into breakout rooms.”
While impressive, nothing about the process was easy.
“It was immensely difficult,” Axel said. “I honestly had no idea what I was getting myself into. I'm a very shy and reserved person, but Lecturama put me in a position where I had to speak up.”
Axel addressed every class he was a part of, letting his peers know about the program and trying to recruit volunteers. He also reached out to his school counselor, Jessica McCann. She arranged for Axel to speak at Parent University, which is attended by many Spanish-speaking parents of JFK Elementary School students. He created a PowerPoint and, conquering his nerves, presented Lecturama to them in Spanish. In addition, he left flyers all around town: at gas stations, laundromats, delis, church and more. Through his hard work and determination, Axel recruited six tutors and 15 students.
“Axel has impressed me this year with his commitment to improving his community,” McCann said. “He identified a need that had to be filled and he collaborated with community partners to identify the best way to do so. Through his community service and academic achievement this year, Axel has demonstrated incredible effort and perseverance, civic responsibility and impressive self-awareness. I’m so proud of him!”
The experience has changed Axel both as a student and as a person.
“The number one thing I learned was to force myself out of my comfort zone,” he said. “If I wanted to see results, I had to be vocal. I had to speak in front of classes and parents, and every week, I had to stand in front of my tutors and students. I also learned the biggest way to help others is to be a leader. I never considered myself one, but COVID put me in a position where I realized I could do something and that it would be wrong of me not to.”
In addition, Axel says he picked up a lot of management skills. He kept track of contacts, schedules and paired tutors with students. He worked with Nastasi to create a lesson format for tutors to follow that maximized how much information a student could absorb while remaining engaged.
“The number one attribute I gained was discipline,” he said. “Every day at 4:20 p.m., I knew it was Lecturama o’clock, and I needed to have my Zoom open. I needed to message all of my students and all of my tutors 30 minutes before class to remind them. If a tutor couldn't make it, I had to fill in for them.”
Axel was surprised to see how attached students got to the tutors and to each other. There was a sense of camaraderie. They bonded over books and helped each other out. In evaluations about the program, parents noted the change they saw in their children because of the program.
“I saw a change in her when she started reading with you,” one parent said. “She used to get frustrated when reading on her own, but reading with you she got the help she needed and it was less stressful.”
Another parent noted newfound confidence in her child.
“It helped him feel more confident speaking in front of other people,” she said. “He was very comfortable with his teachers. It was so nice to see him make new friends and speak up more.”
Axel credits his tutors with helping make the program as successful as it was.
“I’d like to personally thank Maeve Healy, Jennifer Lazo, Jazmin Guzman, Claudia Soto, Jimmy King and Charles Kalbfus,” he said. “They were the pillars throughout this entire journey, displaying dedication, patience and leadership in each class. I am so very grateful and proud of them and I am confident they will accomplish great things in the future.”
Axel anticipates offering another section of Lecturama next year and hopes to have more students and tutors joining the team. For more information, you can visit www.lecturama.org.