Talkversity

Los Altos resident Serra Tulu, top right, gathered volunteers to tutor local students who speak English as a second language, with guidance from the Los Altos School District’s ESL program.

Students faced several challenges during the pandemic, particularly those who speak English as a second language.

That prompted a Los Altos resident to create Talkversity, an organization comprising Bay Area high school students who volunteer to converse with and tutor ESL students. According to its official website, Talkversity is “devoted to teaching and improving students’ English skills, but also promotes teens to take on different volunteer opportunities, and to learn about civic engagement, community service, and develop some leadership skills.”

Founder and executive director Serra Tulu is a student as well, now in her sophomore year at Castilleja School.

“With ESL students not being able to go to school, they’re not getting the support they would regularly get, and most importantly the practice of conversing that they would regularly get,” she said. “I also knew that many teens have found it hard to stay connected, so I wanted to simultaneously create a way for teens to be involved and provide an opportunity for them to give back to the community over a virtual platform.”

Tulu added that she was inspired by volunteer work that involved being a conversation partner to a refugee not fluent in English, and she wanted to bring it to a local level – especially because ESL students have lacked support during the pandemic.

Tulu formed the board of Talkversity with several friends who had similar passions. She then reached out to Jessica Mountz, the ESL coordinator in the Los Altos School District, and had several students referred to Talkversity. Tulu said Mountz was extremely helpful in the beginning of forming her organization.

“I think the biggest thing she did for the organization was highlighting the areas that needed more improvement,” Tulu said of Mountz’s contributions. “In the beginning, we were planning on doing group classes, and she said that perhaps tutoring would be more helpful since English is not the only thing they need help with.”

The process of recruiting a Talkversity tutor is fairly simple. As the board receives ESL student applications, members pair them with an ESL tutor and conduct a brief orientation on how their sessions should go before their first one. However, everything else is fairly flexible to encourage a love for volunteering as well as development of leadership skills, according to Tulu.

“We provide them with a lot of material that they could go over, and we encourage them to be flexible with their students,” she said of the teen volunteers. “Also, as we’re giving them these responsibilities as they volunteer, I’ve noticed that they’ve also improved on their communication skills or time management skills.”

Tulu added that what makes Talkversity such an impactful organization is that it focuses on a group of students often overlooked while also helping volunteers develop a passion for volunteering and learning leadership skills pertaining to how to conduct conversations.

“What’s so nice about the organization is that not only are we changing lives, but we’re helping others change lives,” she said.

For more information on Talkversity, visit talkversity.wixsite.com/home.