Chandler grad revamping tutoring industry - SanTan Sun News SanTan Sun News

Chandler grad revamping tutoring industry

March 25th, 2021 SanTan Sun News
Chandler grad revamping tutoring industry

By Kevin Reagan
Staff Writer

A Hamilton High School graduate has launched a new business to improve local schools’ tutoring services.

Michael Wang, a finance student at Arizona State University, founded his startup PeerSquared last year and has already begun consulting nearby high schools on how they can better tutor struggling students.

“We are on a mission to improve education through creating communities around students,” Wang said.

PeerSquared specializes in developing networks of student instructors trained to tutor their peers in a variety of academic subjects.

The company has already begun assisting Hamilton and Desert Vista high schools in revamping their tutoring programs to serve a wider base of clients by incorporating new technology.

PeerSquared begins by evaluating the existing resources of any given school and devises a plan that can guide students into figuring out the best system for tutoring each other.

Wang said his goal is to make the peer-to-peer tutoring experience enjoyable for both the instructor and student by making it more accessible, convenient and efficient.

“That’s the type of environment we want to help the school set up,” Wang said, “so everyone feels comfortable going to a tutor to ask for help.”

Wang started a tutoring club at Hamilton when he noticed his classmates needed more after-school instructional support.

Some teachers didn’t always have the extra time for after-school tutoring, he said, so students sometimes had to rely on their classmates for additional help.

Wang spent a couple years tutoring younger students who were at risk of failing or dropping out. After he graduated in 2017, he handed the club off to another set of students and hoped it would continue to flourish as he started his studies at ASU.

But interest in the tutoring program gradually declined, Wang said, and it eventually dissolved.

At the same time, Wang was struggling to decide what he should study at ASU and cycled through several majors before settling on business finance.

Yet he still had a compulsion to help others the same way he did back in high school and looked for an outlet to do it.

“Even though I didn’t know what I wanted to do, I knew I wanted to be in a position where I could be of service to others and make an impact,” he said.

While in college, Wang and some friends attended a computer programming competition and created a digital platform that could be used to operate a peer-to-peer tutoring network.

The group’s platform could schedule tutoring sessions and catalog notes tracking the student’s progress. Wang said the application inspired him to try and apply it to an actual school setting and began putting the pieces together that eventually became PeerSquared.

Run by a small group of college students, PeerSquared started out by reaching out to local schools.

Wang said he and his partners quickly realized that schools would need a substantial amount of consultation because one piece of software couldn’t make meaningful improvements in the quality of the tutoring the schools provided.

“It was not enough to solve the problem and we needed to actually help the school implement the program more efficiently,” he said.

The emerging startup sought out some guidance from Chandler Innovations, the city’s startup business incubator.   

Since its inception in 2016, Chandler Innovations has been advising ambitious entrepreneurs like Wang in all the practicalities of running a new business.

Chandler Innovations CEO Diana White said she’s been impressed by PeerSquared’s aspirations and the youthful energy its leaders have to make a difference in their community.

“(Wang) represents the rare group of young entrepreneurs that are not waiting for a degree or the right opportunity,” White said. “He’s making his own path. These are the leaders of the future.”

When PeerSquared officially launched last March, its team was quickly thrown a giant curveball as schools all across Arizona started shutting down in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

But the crisis presented a unique opportunity for the startup after Wang found out that Desert Vista needed to find a way to transfer its tutoring program to a digital format.

PeerSquared reached out to the school and helped it make that conversion. Now the school can schedule hundreds of tutoring sessions on a weekly basis.

Principal Michael Deignan has credited PeerSquared with being instrumental in revamping Desert Vista’s services for a virtual audience by supplying the company’s digital platforms.

“If we were tasked with developing a similar tool ourselves, we certainly wouldn’t have experienced the degree of success in our peer-tutoring program that we currently enjoy,” Deignan said.

Wang said this past year has dramatically shifted the traditions of public education and PeerSquared is positioning itself to help schools rethink how they service struggling students outside of the classroom.   

“Education and learning are not just limited to the hours of the school,” Wang noted, “COVID-19 has changed everything.”

As for the future, PeerSquared is aiming to contract with more school districts around the Valley and further expand its network of student tutors.

Wang said he also is hoping to partner with some nonprofits that can assist PeerSquared in coordinating a summer tutoring program for students who have fallen behind academically during the pandemic.

PeerSquared may have lots to look forward to in the coming months, but its young founder said he still doesn’t feel overwhelmed by all of the startup’s lofty ambitions.

“I just felt like that this was something I was called to do,” Wang added.