The young Ottawa co-founders of a free online tutoring service for elementary school students have expanded their project nationally.

Andrew Mery and Michael Plamondon, the Nepean High School students who launched the Youth Tutoring Project last year, opened a branch of their web-based educational venture in Toronto in January and have been operating in Vancouver since Feb. 15.

The project began in Ottawa in March 2023 as a way to fill a learning gap caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. The idea was to provide free virtual tutoring to children and youth from Grade 1 to Grade 8.

Mery and Plamondon say they wanted to help provide parents and children with affordable educational services amid rising costs for tutoring and the impact of inflation generally.

YTP is a non-profit organization made up of more than 40 volunteers — most of whom are high schoolers — and the project has provided tutoring to more than 90 students.

Because of its success in Ottawa, tutors in Toronto, Vancouver and elsewhere expressed interest in joining YTP.

However, partly to combat the time-zone difference between B.C. and Ontario, the co-founders decided to open up branches in Toronto and Vancouver to provide high school-aged tutors in those cities opportunities to get their 60 hours of volunteer service, and for students in those areas to receive tutoring from a fellow city resident.

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The home page of the Youth Tutoring Project highlights the transformational impact of improved learning with a tutor’s support. [Photo © Youth Tutoring Project]

Mery, who led the expansion project, said if all goes well in Toronto and Vancouver, expansion to other provinces will soon be in the works.

While the pair started Youth Tutoring Project because of needs arising out of the pandemic, they said they also just enjoy teaching and supporting younger kids. Both founders have a pre-pandemic background as lifeguards.

Now, the Youth Tutoring Project is thriving, say Mery and Plamondon. Providing support to youngsters progressing in their education has been gratifying, they add.

“We’re able to basically reach out to kids … who need that tutoring — and it doesn’t really matter, their background or score,” said Plamondon.

“We’re here to help, right? It doesn’t matter their political beliefs, religious beliefs, anything like that. We never asked those questions. We’re always there to help.”

Both founders mentioned they gear their tutoring towards the interests of the student, helping them excel.

Mery descibes helping one student who “couldn’t do any multiplication, and now he can do all his times tables.”

Plamondon described the “wow” feeling that comes when “you have shown that child a new method on how to solve maybe a math problem or help them pronounce a certain word.”

The reliance on virtual learning during the pandemic didn’t give everyone the same opportunities, notes Alliyah Morrow, an independent program coordinator at Carleton University who also does educational training.

It really just depends on the success of our two current chapters and to see if this model works — and the way that we’re training our new chapter founders.

Andrew Mery, co-founder, Youth Tutoring Project

“For the kids who had more accessibility, they were given more opportunity to kind of grow in that environment, whereas kids who don’t have that were not afforded the same opportunities,” Morrow said.

But when it comes to post-pandemic options that students have available, even a digital service like the Youth Tutoring Project, she believes they can be an asset in these years after the COVID-19 public health crisis.

“The more resources the merrier, always,” said Morrow. “I am under the firm belief that it truly takes a village in any situation. Especially when it comes to any kind of help, I think that’s always going to benefit somebody.”

If all goes well, say YTP’s founders, they are planning to expand to high school students once they reach university themselves. And if their branches in Toronto and Vancouver continue to gain traction, they’ll undertake expansions in other Canadian cities.

They’re tentatively considering a branch of YTP on “the eastern side of Canada,” said Mery, adding that they’re looking at “Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, as well.

“It really just depends on the success of our two current chapters,” Mery added, “and to see if this model works — and the way that we’re training our new chapter founders.”