Lesley Drucker is in a league of her own.
Sure, the Cate School sophomore is feeling the impact of COVID-19 like most 16-year-olds in the area – with a rocky transition to online school and more idle time spent at home – but her commitment to community is where the disparities lie.
As virtual class began countywide at the end of March, she watched her eighth-grade sister seek help with online math. With each question her sister asked, Lesley had a nagging feeling there was more she could do than solve a few algebra equations.
Lesley’s concerns rolled past the bounds of her own home and to everyone else in town. What about the kids who didn’t have a big sister to be their pseudo-math teacher? Well, she thought, it was time to step up.
Together, alongside four of her friends from Santa Barbara and San Marcos High School, Lesley has established SB Sunshine Tutors, a free K-12 tutoring service open to any students in need of a little extra help through the pandemic.
“I couldn’t sit back and feel helpless knowing that there was something I could do, especially when everything seems so absolutely out of control during this time,” Lesley said. “So, I reached out to local Santa Barbara schools to see how I could help their students as classrooms went online.”
Facilitated through Zoom, Lesley and her friends meet with their clients on a daily or weekly basis, contingent on the student’s needs. Prior to each hour-long session, students send their assigned work to their tutors in advance, so when time comes to ask questions, they aren’t met with a blank stare.
That said, students’ questions have remained fairly basic thus far, Lesley said. Among their five current clients – the youngest being in fourth grade and oldest in eighth – most confusion has fallen under reading comprehension. Still, the team of young teachers offer services in mathematics up to pre-calculus, environmental science, physics, chemistry, biology, history, and even Spanish.
Typically, each client has one subject they need most help with, but Lesley emphasized their efforts are anything but one-dimensional.
“SB Sunshine Tutors was started to supplement this loss and help make learning flow more easily,” she said. “Just because the coronavirus has stopped the world doesn’t mean it has to stop active learning.”
When she first started the program, Lesley thought it would be nothing more than a couple sessions a week among friends of friends. And while SB Sunshine is still in its beginning stages, her efforts are not being left unnoticed.
“There’s been a lot of gratitude from parents,” she said. “They keep asking me, ‘How much do we pay you,’ and I’m like, ‘No, no it’s free!’ I’ve even had adults who don’t have kids find out about us and call their friend with a child to see if they need help.”
Even as Lesley manages online class herself, she’s willing to fit in as many clients as she can. That means navigating her weekly Cate schedule of Calculus, chemistry, Spanish, modern world history and English to find a time to tutor. Luckily, her personal schoolwork rarely extends beyond 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. each day, so she’s glad to give her evenings to potential clients – as long as her sister’s questions are satisfied.
Still, with each of the five tutors taking on one student, their schedules are easily managed. Lesley would even say a little empty. For her, the nagging feeling to do something more hasn’t been satisfied – at least not yet. In fact, her track record indicates that feeling may never go away. It’s part of who she is.
Prior to the pandemic, Lesley satisfied her itch to serve by volunteering with Cottage Hospital. As an aspiring pediatrician, her interests lie in the health medicine field, so there was no better area to apply her altruism. Amid the pandemic, those interests have not fallen away – they’ve hit closer to home.
Two weeks ago, Lesley’s brother entered Cottage Hospital for reasons unrelated to COVID-19. Having since been diagnosed with Crohn’s Disease, an autoimmune disorder, he remains in the heart of the pandemic with little access to his family or the outside world.
Lesley, not wavering for a second, is confident her brother will be okay. For her, the hardest part isn’t knowing if he’ll leave the hospital, but not being able to stay in contact while he’s there. Staying true to character, Lesley came alive at the first sign of uncertainty.
“Before the coronavirus was an issue, I was hoping to get involved with a program (at the hospital) speaking with patients that don’t have visitors,” she said. “Just talking to patients and hearing their stories to keep up their emotional strength.”
Now, Lesley hopes to extend those services to patients throughout the pandemic. Though she has yet to hear back from hospitals on the potential program, she’s eager to be a friend to someone like her brother.
In the meantime, Lesley has found a new passion in teaching. While not giving up on being a doctor quite yet, she knows SB Tutoring is far from a one-time event. Now that she’s seen what one person can do, there’s no going back and no telling where she will go next.
“That’s the most rewarding thing for me… knowing that our services are needed and used,” she said. “All of this was fashioned from a small little idea of mine and now we’re helping more people. That’s just the best gift ever.”
Those interested in signing up can email firstname.lastname@example.org or message SB Sunshine’s Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/sbsunshinetutors.