by Stu Krantz
They say that “from small beginnings come great things,” and that literally applies to the case of Erik Kimel. In 2004, the then-Churchill High School student started Peer2Peer Tutors with a single one-inch ad in the Potomac Gazette. Today, Peer2Peer has serviced more than 5,000 students and counting from more than 20 major metropolitan areas across the Northeast, from Boston and New York to Maryland and Virginia. As it states on its website, “Peer2Peer Tutors empowers top high school students to tutor and mentor younger schoolmates.”
“Education is ready for disruption,” says Kimel. “We need quality programs that students build for other students,” and Peer2Peer is just that. With more than 107,000 hours of student-to-student tutoring administered, Peer2Peer lists four core values on its website, peer2peertutors.com. First is passion, to unleash the power of peers. Next comes relationships, which build trust through collaboration. After that, of course, is learning. Performance and “demonstrating excellence in everything we do” round out the list.
“It’s so different from normal private tutoring because it is the kids. At the end of the day, this is what makes it different,” Kimel said. “Every school has a free after-school peer program, but we’ve never had trouble conveying the message that we offer higher quality tutoring.”
What makes Peer2Peer of such high quality is how easily trust is built between two students of similar age, one of whom just happens to be the teacher, while the other is the pupil.
“We see peers used a lot for enrichment — when they’re doing okay, but could be better. It’s more fun and it really engages the child,” Kimel said. “We see this when they’re on the fast track, but they could use that extra hour to clarify what the teacher is teaching, or if they’re trying to go from a B to an A.”
Such was the case with Kimel’s first student, a child named James whom he secured as a client through the ad in the Gazette. A sixth-grader who loved basketball, James looked up to Kimel, then a senior, as a member of the basketball team at Churchill, James’ future high school.
“He thought I was cool,” explained Kimel. “I was telling him the same thing his mom was saying but because he was hearing it from an older kid who played basketball but also was good in math, it clicked.”
Little did James know at the time, he would later go on to tutor for Kimel and Peer2Peer in math, his new favorite subject, in a turn of events Kimel said “brings it full circle.” James’ family, too, had an impact on Peer2Peer.
“James’ mom told everybody he was getting better grades, was more engaged in school, so I started asking friends. My whole AP calculus class was working for me. We had 40 kids.”
Kimel wrote his essay for his application to New York University about Peer2Peer. He was accepted and ultimately graduated a semester early from the Stern School of Business with a double major in finance and management. According to the Peer2Peer website, Kimel was named one of BusinessWeek’s Top 25 Entrepreneurs Under 25 and was featured on CNN in 2010, among other accolades. He sits on a variety of boards, including the Montgomery County Business Roundtable for Education and the Montgomery County Youth Council. Additionally, Peer2Peer has been mentioned in The Washington Post and Huffington Post, as well as on NBC and ABC.
“Now we recruit the brightest 10th-, 11th- and 12th-graders, sometimes college students. It’s a rigorous hiring process. There’s two levels of interviews and then orientation for all peer tutors,” detailed Kimel. “The training makes the difference. Students [tutors] have to be National Honor Society but then we train and we pay them — double what they make at the mall. You can work the hours you want.
“It’s a perfect job for a high school kid.”
That’s not just fluff — tutors, along with parents and students, are very complimentary of their Peer2Peer experience. Just go to the testimonials page on the Peer2Peer website and you can find dozens and dozens of instances of effusive praise from all parties involved with Peer2Peer.
“I can’t put into words how great things are going,” says Parisa D., a tutor from Montgomery County. “I love seeing and hearing that I am helping her [my student] out a lot and that she really appreciates me as a tutor.”
“Brian is the most successful NSL [American government] tutor I’ve had so far. I am especially pleased with how he helped me prepare for the writing portion of the test,” the website quotes Annie A., a Montgomery County student. “He explained each and every aspect of A-grade writing. For example, he got me to significantly improve my organization … I am so happy with Brian! Thanks for sending him as a tutor.”
“Alex has been absolutely terrific. He has helped our son gain much needed confidence and did so in an engaging, relaxed manner,” writes Patty W., a Montgomery County parent. “Alex made our son laugh AND learn. He was great and I would highly recommend him.”
And it goes on and on. But for the parents who have not yet experienced Peer2Peer, Kimel demonstrated some indicators of when it might be time to consider doing so.
“When coursework has gone beyond you as a parent — what you remember,” Kimel said. Also “when homework and school assignments cause stress and friction between you and your child. I don’t want to argue with my son and daughter about schoolwork and homework. I want someone else to come in.”
If a child needs more straightforward teaching rather than student mentoring, Peer2Peer now has a solution for that, too.
“In January, I merged Peer2Peer with Aristotle Circle, who are the exact opposite of us,” Kimel indicated. “They hire only best tutors for course work and test prep. It’s top quality, experienced people to offer to families when that is a better option.”
Top high school students should apply to tutor for Peer2Peer, Kimel says, because “it’s become a brand that means something on the college resume.” Peer2Peer tutors get into top colleges and college admissions “know it’s quality.” Those interested in tutoring can go to peer2peertutors.com and click on “employment.”
Kimel promises it will be a fantastic experience not only for the tutor but the student as well.
“We make it fun. We work in sports and music. Half an hour of math and then guitar, or reading and then karate,” Kimel said. “If they can get the NYU student to put on the karate uniform and play with the kids and get in some math and help them get into the next school, that’s what they want … but we don’t want overkill. It’s not sign you up for the year and you’ll come to the center and we’ll drill math. We customize for the family.”