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Volunteer + tutor = learning and fun for isolated students

NEW YORK (AP) — “Tell us about Vikings; tell us about shipwrecks; tells us about pirates and ancient myths.” Sara Herlevsen nods, smiles and answers these questions from students via video conferencing. Or this 31-year-old massage therapist and tutor from Calgary helps them with their math homework, a science quiz or an art project.

Sometimes, she simply listens. Many want someone to talk to because the spread of the coronavirus outbreak has forced their schools to close and isolated them from their classmates. Herlevsen said it all started because she was worried about students falling behind. So she volunteered to help on social media: “During Pandemic Times,” she said. “I would like to offer FREE remote assistance/tutoring to any child who is at home right now. Anywhere in the world.”

Her Facebook post last month spread in Canada and other countries, including Australia, Britain and as far away as Vietnam. Since then, she wakes up at dawn every day to teach children and some parents everything from biology to the Latin root of words.

“I have nothing else to offer at this time as I am self-isolating. But I have Facetime and chat! And lots of time and random knowledge and need something to do!” Herlevsen said her wide-ranging knowledge, love for books and teaching comes her father, a theologian. Above all, she hopes to be a mentor to some of the students she tutors who, like her, have attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.

During a recent lesson, she reviewed facts about the Titanic with Corban Music, a 9-year-old from Calgary who loves ships. They also briefly spoke about Norse mythology ("Do you know Thor from the Avengers?” she asked) and a bit about Vikings: “Did you know that they didn’t really have those horns in their helmets?”

“I know about this stuff!” the boy said. They both laughed when he changed the virtual backdrop on his video conference to famous tourist spots. She then listened in silence when he read a story that he had dictated to his mother about the popular Nintendo brothers, Mario and Luigi.

In her next lesson, she reviewed biology and the Latin roots of medical words with 12-year-old Nevaeh Siipola, who dreams of becoming a doctor. “When we see a root word with the word ‘dento’ in front ... it pertains to?” she asked.

“Teeth!” Siipola answered. The lessons have been welcomed by parents who are trying to juggle working from home without childcare. “Kindness from a stranger like Sara is more appreciated,” said Nevaeh’s mother, Quynh Siipola. “It’s more than winning the lottery.”

While nonstop global news about the effects of the coronavirus have become commonplace, so, too, are the stories about the kindness of strangers and individuals who have sacrificed for others. “One Good Thing” is an AP continuing series reflecting these acts of kindness.

Associated Press religion coverage receives support from the Lilly Endowment through the Religion News Foundation. The AP is solely responsible for this content.

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