Reaching Across the World

Leos Tutor Students in China To Help Them Get Into College

The Edison Metro Lions of New Jersey struggled to find service projects for their Leos during the pandemic. Even outdoor park programs were canceled. But when they expanded their horizons a half a world away to China’s remote impoverished villages, and to students facing a whole different kind of struggle, they found a way Leos could serve.

Girl sitting at computer smiling
Leo Olivia Chen tutors students in China over Zoom.

“What if someone says, ‘yes, I care and I can help?’” asked Leos Julia Yi and Olivia Chen. The Leos, knowing that test scores in high school and on the national college entrance exam determine academic fate in China, became online English tutors.

Children of villagers in the Dabie Mountains of central China and migrant workers brought to one of the smaller islands that make up the fishing archipelago of Zhoushan don’t have the same college opportunities that students in larger cities have. Parents dream of their child becoming a first-generation college student so they can break the cycle of poverty.

Edison Metro Lions Club president Hinglan Zheng and Lion professor Yanhong Jin connected the Leos with a college students’ reading group in the Dabie Mountains as well as new immigrant families in Zhoushan.

Students in the Dabie Mountain villages were split in groups based on their English skills, and three to five were paired with four Leos and a Lion for 90 minutes each week on Zoom. Participants prepared Power Point slides on a topic of choice, like food, fitness, apparel, and tourism.

Middle-school students from the families of migrant workers were paired up once a week with Leos for a 60-minute video chat, sharing about school routines, stories,Flyer advertising summer tutoring and family life.

“The experience allowed access to authentic American English and brought completely new perspectives to young minds,” says Hanye Zhang, the vice academic director of the Mingzhu Middle School in China.

For tutors in the U.S., like 15-year-old Yi whose mother is from Zhoushan, it helped her realize how Leos can make an impact not only locally, but internationally.

Their time together on Zoom also gave both sides a place to communicate, meet new people, cultivate friendship, and most importantly have fun, says Chen, 14.

“As their tutor, I can see their progress in each lesson, in their pronunciation, vocabulary, and their willingness to try and take up challenges,” she says. “Not only has it benefited them, but also me. They are learning more English and I am learning more Chinese.”

Tutors also had to arrange mutually convenient lesson times, send out reminders, and set a schedule. “So I learned to take on responsibilities not only for myself but also for others who are depending on me,” says Chen.

Eighteen Leos participated in the project during the summer of 2020, helping 17 middle-school students and about 20 college students, and this summer 21 Leos paired with 20 students from middle school.

The Edison Metro Lions intend to expand the summer project and hope to grow it into a year-round program.