Westport Welcomes Pencil Warriors

Like so many other areas of Westport life, tutoring has become an arms race.

Parents pay well north of $120 an hour for their kids’ instruction in physics, chemistry, writing, what have you.

They fork over high sums for specialized sports coaching too — baseball, soccer, basketball, etc.

Soon there will be a new entrant in that crowded battlefield. It’s called “Pencil Warrior” — and Greg Lewis hopes his tutors and coaches can take the arms race down a notch.

Gabe Schindler (left) and Greg Lewis, hard at work on their Pencil Warrior project. (Photo/Barbara Schindler)

Greg and his web design partner, Gabe Schindler, are 2011 Staples grads. But they’re not the tutors; they’re already too old. They’re about to go live with a website that allows parents of children from kindergarten on up to select current high school students as tutors — once those students register, and are vetted, by Greg.

The idea is for eligible students to tutor not only a subject, but the same course — and teacher — they’ve previously had. The key: A tutor must have received at least an A- in that class. Greg will validate those grades, through transcripts.

Sports tutors must be members of a varsity or junior varsity team.

(Greg is registering baby sitters too. They need not be A- students, or athletes.)

“People who are tutoring right now might not know how specific classes run. Each teacher emphasizes different things,” notes Greg.

He is not anti-teacher or professional tutors, he adds. “This is mentorship — peers giving advice on how to succeed, for less money.” He says Pencil Warrior “complements” higher-priced tutors. District policy prohibits teachers from tutoring students in their own classes. Greg says he’s spoken with several teachers who tutor, and they see value in what he’s doing.

Staples principal John Dodig has tried for years to organize a student help exchange. He cites the simplicity and convenience of Pencil Warrior, and wishes Greg and his team “much success in this creative venture.”

Pencil Warrior does not set fees. It simply connects tutors with parents and younger students. Tutors can create profile pages highlighting their talents, while parents and tutees will be able to post reviews of their tutors.

Because student tutors are less experienced than adults, Greg’s site will include resources, links and “best practices” pages just for tutors.

A screen shot from the home page.

A couple of years ago, at Staples, Greg had the concept of connecting older students with younger ones. Last year, sitting in an economics class at Amherst College, he realized the importance of passing along knowledge of successful practices — “what works.”

He taught himself programming, and built a beta program to register tutors. Gabe — a rising sophomore at the University of Michigan — adds web design talents.

Greg is not charging tutors a commission or fee. The site will be supported by local ads. Eventually, he may license his program for use in other communities.

But for now, he’s readying Pencil Warrior for its launch. And for launching himself into the middle of the crowded tutoring/coaching fray.

16 responses to “Westport Welcomes Pencil Warriors

  1. Excellent idea and execution!, What an enterprising, engaging way for accessing older peers …passing along knowledge! Great name also!

  2. Go Greg!!! This is an amazing idea. We could tell you were bound for success. Figuring out another way to help older kids mentor younger ones, like you did while in K2BK, is perfect for you! This is awesome and I wish you great success!!! Can’t wait to sign up!

  3. Fighting for Freedom

    This is the free market and capitalism at its finest. Even in times of such poor fiscal management from the administration, there are amazing endeavors like these.

    I commend Greg and Gabe in their pursuit to become just as successful, if not more, than local success story Melissa & Doug – and hope their future success is not hindered by the current administration’s policies killing small businesses.

    • John McCarthy

      Wow, an opportunity to spew a political opinion around every corner.

      • Less than 90 days...and counting

        It does when you have a socialist/Marxist pResident telling enterpernurs and business owners, “if you’re successful, you didn’t build that”.

    • Just wondering how you would rate the proformance of the free market and capitalism in 2008?

      • What free market? Markets have been regulated for the last 80 years.

        • Emma, you should check your facts. The regulation that was put into practice about 80 years ago (Glass-Steagall) that separated comercial banks from investment banks, was basically repealed in 1999. Another major cause of the economic crisis, Credit Default Swaps, were never regulated in any way.

          • Please check your facts; the markets are regulated. The SEC, the CRA, the Federal Reserve are manifestations of that regulation. The repeal of PART of the regulations did not eliminate all of the regulations. The regulations have unintended consequences; destabilizing markets are one of them.

      • Less than 90 days...and counting

        You mean when the dems controlled both the House and Senate?!
        And Barney Frank, Chris Dodd and Nazi Pelosi ran things & jug ears voted ‘present’? Pretty f’n shitty!!

  4. genius and i hope my daughter will be one too after using pencil warriors. signing up!

  5. Here we go again. I’ve said before Westport turns out such geneouses it’s got to be in the water. Pls send me a few gallons so at least I can remember where I left my glasses Oh yes & spell. Great going guys!

  6. Hooah!
    Gotta be profitable applications of the model. Good luck.

  7. teach because I love it.....

    As a teacher at Staples (and one that does NOT tutor) I worry that this will place the burden on the teacher to create new tests and quizzes each year. As a teacher, I rarely use the same tests year in and year out, but I often “adjust” and “borrow” questions from previous years. What is to prevent a student from simply handing over their whole notebook to the kids and giving them an unfair advantage over other kids? Tutoring, I argue, is an unfair advantage in itself. That’s one of the reasons I do not tutor (and to be honest, my subject is not one of high tutoring volume). However, there is an understanding of professionalism between teachers so as to make sure the process is as objective as possible. I think the stipulation with Pencil Warriors should be that the tutor must NOT have had the same teacher. Teachers are not allowed to tutor their own students and in my opinion, a student who has had access to all test questions (including midterm and final exams) should not be allowed to tutor a student currently enrolled with that same teacher.

    I welcome this outlet for students who cannot afford the outrageous cost of tutoring these days. Many students tell me that they would like a tutor but their parents cannot afford it. This is a great opportunity to make the playing field more level, let’s just make sure it doesn’t tilt too far the other way.

  8. From a student’s perspective, if the teacher is that worried about former students tutoring fellow students, simply change the questions. It really can’t be that hard to change the questions up each year. But to be honest, at Staples and at basically every high school, if you pay attention in class, do practice problems/readings after class and are willing to pay a visit to your teacher, there is very little reason you would actually need a tutor. (plenty of teachers can be like a tutor just by helping you after or during class)

  9. I doubt teachers who tutor after hours are going to like this. Good luck to tutors and students, (but don’t think this leads to Harvard).