I'm now semi-retired after a career teaching physics (and occasionally math) at a community college, and am looking for opportunities to volunteer with disadvantaged youth. During my college career, I organized and ran a walk-in tutoring center for the physics department, with a combination of faculty and students as tutors. Doing this on a volunteer basis at a high school seems like it would be an effective use of my skills and enjoyable to do.

Compared to the community college program I supervised, it seems like what I'm trying to do now would be much less work for a high school to support, since it wouldn't require funding or space. (During COVID, this would be over zoom.) I'm treating this as a real job search, and have worked up a resume and job letter, and lined up references. I've researched high schools in my area to find ones that have a lot of students qualifying for free lunches, and have made attempts to establish contact, although so far I have not had any immediate nibbles.

I suspect a barrier here is that most high schools do not have any preexisting setup of this kind, so it's not like volunteering for an organization that already has $n$ volunteers and can just plug in volunteer $n+1$. Can anyone describe a successful program of this type at a high school in the US that they're familiar with? I'm interested in things like where the tutoring happens physically (in non-COVID times), who hires and supervises tutors (assistant principal? department head?), and how students are made aware of the availability of tutoring (maybe by their teachers, with announcements via the Schoology courseware?).

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    $\begingroup$ I'm not entirely sure that U.S. high schools generally allow students to "walk-in" anywhere. Class periods and locations are well-defined (hall passes, etc.) After-school programs need advance sign-ups and tracking, too, I think. I could be wrong and/or this might vary a lot. I fear that disadvantaged schools may tend towards more draconian policies. $\endgroup$ Dec 15 '20 at 21:48

I have served as a math tutor through my employer, a software firm that sponsors a local college prep Jesuit school serving "students of limited economic resources."

The tutoring was an organized affair arranged through the head of schools, enabled by our pre-existing sponsorship relationship. I think how it happened was that one of our employees who was interested in tutoring first gauged interest among the other employees to get a quorum of tutors, and then reached out to the school through our designated contact.

Before being allowed to tutor, prospective tutors had to undergo a background check and take mandatory training through VIRTUS, a Catholic-specific program to teach adults how to recognize and report child abuse. I think the background check and the training were valid for three or five years.

Each visit, tutors had to sign in at the school office with a government ID, which was checked by the Raptor visitor management system against known lists of criminals and sex offenders.

The tutoring was at a set time on the same day every week, once per week. Aside from the scheduling, it could be considered drop-in in that tutors could choose which weeks to go, and students could choose to attend tutoring or not. We had a different set of tutors and students every week. Subjects ranged from pre-algebra to calculus. It is a small school, with fewer than 600 students, so the students are known to the faculty and staff. Often the students who showed up did so because a teacher had either required or recommended it.


  • You're looking for an organized program. Check with your professional and fraternal organizations to see if something like this exists already.
  • A one-time background check will be required, and possibly some training.
  • You'll check in every time you visit the school.
  • You may not get the same kids every time, so you may not be able to count on developing rapport.
  • You may not get the same subject matter every time. It helps to be flexible and willing to tutor any type of high school math or science.

One factor that makes this endeavor more difficult has to do with background checks and liability. The school district will have policies and procedures that make it more difficult to allow volunteers to be present in the building. Oversight of non-employees becomes yet another ball for an administrator to juggle. So accept that your work might have to be taken "off site" and not be officially sanctioned by the school.

Some ideas:

Make inquiries with people on the local school board, and not just high school teachers and principals.

Look at United Way projects, or propose one yourself. Often a collaboration with a community organization such as ones for Hmong and Southeast Asian communities can be productive.

Investigate the MAA Tensor SUMMA program


Here is a summary:

The Tensor Foundation has provided funding for the MAA to award Tensor SUMMA (Strengthening Underrepresented Minority Mathematics Achievement) grants for projects designed to encourage the pursuit and enjoyment of mathematics by students who are members of groups historically underrepresented in the field of mathematics. These include students who are African-American, Native American, Hispanic, or Pacific Islander. If your project will be targeted toward another group that you believe would qualify the project, you may wish to consult with us before submitting your proposal. Projects may be designed for middle school students, high school students, or college/university students.

Partner with a regional college or university that has a secondary-education program to find undergraduates interested in service-learning, or resume development. Also see if the regional college or university has a continuing education unit that might facilitate a program.

I have seen many such models in my career. They all come with frustration and challenges, but with patience and willingness to adapt, they are rewarding and serve good social purpose.


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