Round Rock High Schoolers Spark Learning During the Pandemic

Anagha Sampath (top) and Sarayu Kommuri, founders of SparkED Round Rock
Anagha Sampath (top) and Sarayu Kommuri, founders of SparkED Round Rock (Courtesy of SparkED)

For many 14- and 15-year-olds, 2020 was a weird year to start high school. The awkward searches around a cafeteria for a table of friends, the awe of stepping through the school's front doors for the first time, or run-ins with impossibly large human beings known as seniors all ceased to exist. Instead, many students began their days flipping open a laptop and clicking a Zoom link. Given the circumstances, it would be forgivable for this new class of students to become a little self-absorbed as they tried to navigate the stresses of a new school from their bedrooms and kitchens.

Not so for Round Rock High School freshmen Anagha Sampath, 15, and Sarayu Kommuri, 14.

As they looked for leadership opportunities heading into high school, they came across SparkED. By August, the duo had launched the Round Rock chapter of SparkED, a volunteer-run organization that seeks to empower and educate youth. "The more and more we looked into the mission statement of SparkED, we fell in love with it, and it became more of a passion project," Sampath says.

While the chapter provides a number of free services to youth, tutoring is one of the primary focuses. Initially, the pair had trouble finding students interested in tutoring, but eight months later they are managing a team of 40 tutors and 63 students. The majority are from Texas, but in today's virtual world they also work with students from other states, including California and Minnesota.

The chapter offers support in a range of subjects from language arts to band, and the lesson plans are tailored to each student's needs. Before instruction begins they meet with the student's parents to better understand their goals. "We have 63 students. We have 63 different curriculums," Sampath said. "No two students will have the exact same thing, because every student learns differently. Every student is better at something than another."

Sampath and Kommuri agree that some of their most rewarding moments have come from conversations with parents. A mother of one of their first students called Kommuri crying one day and revealed that her daughter had improved significantly in language arts. "It really struck close to me, because I struggled with language arts so much and not having a program like this when I was younger. It helped me understand how much I'm helping my community," Kommuri says.

Aruna Kommuri, Sarayu's mother, didn't know what to think when her daughter told her about her plan to start the chapter. "Me and my husband were not very sure about this, because she's just starting her high school, and COVID is new to everybody. And we were so worried whether it's going to affect her grades and all," Aruna says. But as the year wore on she was pleasantly surprised by her daughter's work. "We thought she has so many amazing skills and we felt really, really happy with that," Aruna adds.

As COVID-19 slowly loosens its grip across the U.S, Kommuri and Sampath are committed to continuing their tutoring both virtually and in-person. "This program is like our child," Kommuri says. "We've kind of raised it from the beginning."

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Anagha Sampath, Sarayu Kommuri, SparkED

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