About six years ago, Stephanie Hippo and Jonathan Onorato began driving out to Solid Ground’s Sand Point Housing campus at least once a week, often twice, to tutor the kids who live there.
It started with weekly homework help, but as they got to know the kids over the years, it became about a lot more: college applications, job interviews, networking strategies, and sometimes just advice on life.
“It just kinda become our weekly thing,” Stephanie says. “We really enjoyed it from the first time we went.”
Stephanie and Jonathon are part of a small group of employees from Google and other tech companies in Seattle who’ve tutored and mentored Sand Point students on a weekly basis for about eight years. Many of the volunteers have built meaningful and lasting relationships with the kids, coaching them as they apply for college and pursue careers.
“The tutors are so important because they provide another opportunity for kids to have an adult relationship, which is really important for their development and things like life planning, career opportunities, and being more engaged in school,” says Oliver Alexander-Adams, Family and Children’s Programs Manager at Sand Point. “The tutors also provide a really high-quality service that gives the kids a leg up they wouldn’t otherwise have. Private tutors are really expensive, and these tutors are even better than that because they provide one-on-one mentorship and support.”
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Tutoring that goes beyond help with homework
For Stephanie and Jonathon, it all started after they moved to Seattle from Ohio and found they missed the teaching and tutoring they’d done back home. When Stephanie spotted a flyer about Solid Ground at Google, where she now works as an engineering manager, she reached out to another Google volunteer and got connected with the Sand Point Children’s Program.
Stephanie and Jonathon started coming out to Sand Point twice a week, staying for an hour to an hour and half to help students with homework.
“Having these resources – someone to talk to and work with – can make a huge difference in both your attitude toward school and your own abilities, and viewing education as a strong part of your future.” ~Stephanie Hippo, Google employee & volunteer tutor
“It could be any subject the kids have. I’m not very good at Spanish but we did a lot of math and science,” Stephanie says. “My husband took the chemistry stuff and I took biology.”
The couple would work with four or five kids each night, but they began developing deeper relationships with a few in particular, especially after the pandemic ended in-person tutoring and volunteers were paired off with individual students to provide greater support. Stephanie became particularly close with Mekedes Dejenie, a then-high school student who shared Stephanie’s passion for computer science (read our blog post Becoming the representation that’s missing in tech).
“She was quiet at first, but she was clearly a very hard worker. She would always show up and say what homework she had, and you never had trouble getting her started,” Stephanie says. “She was really great at asking questions when she didn’t understand something. She just always had such a great attitude from the get go.”
Giving kids the support they deserve
Stephanie and Jonathon took a break from weekly tutoring in March when they had a kid of their own, but she and Mekedes are still in touch – mostly about “happy updates,” Stephanie says. She said she hopes to get back to working with the kids at Sand Point soon.
“Frankly, I think they just deserve it,” she says. “I know a lot of their parents are working incredibly hard and might not have the tools or the language or the time, frankly, to help their kids with some of this stuff. Having these resources – someone to talk to and work with – can make a huge difference in both your attitude toward school and your own abilities, and viewing education as a strong part of your future.”
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