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More side gigs for good during COVID-19

As the effects of COVID-19 stretch on, Penn students, faculty, and staff are leveraging their ingenuity and resourcefulness to serve those impacted by the pandemic. Penn Today has been documenting these stories in a series on “side gigs for good.” The latest installment features Lisa Witmer, a biology lecturer in the College of Liberal and Professional Studies, and Alexandria Brake, Master of Environmental Studies (MES) ’20.

Lisa has launched an online tutoring program for students in Northeast Philadelphia. She started the program before COVID-19 hit, with her husband and two teenage children and several Penn post-baccalaureate students as tutors. The pandemic put the tutoring program on hold until Lisa decided to take it online. More than 100 elementary students, some as young as kindergarten age, were soon taking online lessons. Now, a team of 17 tutors teaches chemistry, math, reading, and writing several days a week. “I wanted to do this because I want to set an example for my children,” Lisa says, “and to do something for other people that can change their lives. There are many people who changed mine.” 

Alexandria, who graduated from the MES program in May, is also featured in the article. While completing the degree, Alexandria worked as an English teacher at St. James School, a tuition-free private school that serves fourth through eighth graders in North Philadelphia. When the pandemic forced in-person instruction to stop in mid-March, Alexandria and her colleagues set up a sidewalk table so their students could come to pick up packets of homework. “But we quickly realized that the biggest thing the kids were going to need wasn’t going to be homework; it was going to be food,” she says. They began distributing donated groceries and other supplies to the school community—and soon expanded to serve neighbors in need as well. “The school had been here for about 12 years, but at this point, we have stronger relationships with our neighbors than we’ve ever had,” Alexandria says.

To read the full story, see “More side gigs for good during COVID-19” via Penn Today.