Tooting Tophat’s Horn

Back in the day, being tutored was a mark of shame.

Now, Staples students talk about “my tutor” as casually as they once said “my dog,” or the Knack sang “My Sharona.”

Some of those tutors charge stratospheric rates. Others are closer to earth, but still up there.

Then there’s Tophat Tutors.

Tophat Tutors logoThe 3-year-old outfit is not only aimed at students — it’s run by them. The result is a different kind of tutoring. And different rates.

Tophat was the brainchild of then-Staples senior Charlie Jersey. He and a couple of friends began tutoring classmates, and younger students.

When he graduated — he’s now at Williams College — Charlie sold the fledgling business to Nick Massoud, for $1. Nick — now at Yale — expanded the number of tutors, and added a website (

Last spring, Nick sold Tophat for the now-traditional $1 to Vig Namasivayam. He’s one of those very busy seniors — president of both Staples Players and the National Honor Society, among other activities — but along with Tophat vice president Simon Ginsberg, he’s expanded the company even more.

Tophat tutors — who must be at least high school juniors — offer one-on-one services in math, biology, chemistry, physics, environmental science, writing, history, government, economics, Latin, Italian, French, Spanish, Chinese and more.

Vig Namasivayan

Vig Namasivayam (Photo/Kerry Long)

Vig chooses his staff carefully. They must be knowledgeable in their subject areas (duh), but able to connect with peers and younger students too. They must also be good role models.

Last spring, Vig met with all 27 tutors. He described his own tutoring style, and stressed the importance of patience and professionalism.

Like many higher-priced tutors, Tophat sessions take place in students’ homes, the library, or Barnes & Noble. Unlike the others, Tophat charges just $40 an hour.

As president, Vig faces challenges other tutoring services do not. “A lot of seniors are busy with college stuff,” he says. “I’ve got to make sure they have time to do this, and do it right.”

He takes care to match students with appropriate tutors. One parent may request a “sweet, nurturing girl” for her child. Another asks for a “straightforward guy.”

Feedback has been excellent. Parents are pleased that a peer is helping their child. They’re also pleased not to shell out $700 an hour* for the service.

Tophat Tutors at work.

Tophat Tutors at work. 

As for Vig, he loves his job. “When a kid gets an A on a test, I’m happy too,” he says. He also enjoys the process of organizing and matching his tutors, and expanding the business. (Tophat is moving into Weston.)

Vig is not yet sure who he’ll sell Tophat Tutors to, a few months from now. But he promises the price will be $1.

That’s low — just like his tutors’ prices.

The quality, though, is sky-high.

(For more information, click here; email, or call 203-912-1645.)

*The high end, believe it or not

9 responses to “Tooting Tophat’s Horn

  1. Looking for help with Singapore maths and writing content for a 5th grade and science for an 8th grade

  2. Ann Marie Flynn

    What a great idea……for both tutors and the tutored. This is a program that will be able to catch on nation-wide. Our town is most fortunate on having
    wonderful originators in the student body. Definitely winners for both sides.

  3. The Chamber of Commerce honored Nick Massoud with our Young Entrepreneur award last spring for his work with Tophat Tutors.

    Always good to see our kids investing back their time and effort into our community.

  4. Steve Doig (Staples '66)

    Really, $700 an hour? For that, I would expect the tutors to be Nobel winners! Jeez…

  5. Marcy Anson Fralick Staples Class of 1970

    Peer-to-Peer tutoring is a great idea. It’s so much easier for kids to relate to other kids, talk about teachers, and be taught how to respond to a particular teacher’s methods, while keeping up outside of the classroom. A lot of schools did this when my daughters were in high school (early 90’s), but it was a Club, not a business. Peer tutors (like Peer Counselors) would come to the house and work with the student on test prep, note taking, teacher strategies, and of course, bring the kids up to par in the classroom by going over the subject matter and “translating” it into language the kids could relate to. It’s still happening in the schools, and the Clubs are swamped with students needing help, but maybe someone should tell them they could make money doing it as it’s always been free!

  6. Bobbi Essagof (Mrs. Essagof)

    This is wonderful. I’m huge advocate of tutoring even if you are not behind because I always feel it great to have that one on one even if to pre-teach so the student has a little more confidence when the skill is taught in class. Do these tutors work with middle schoolers and or elementary students? So many younger kids could benefit from the one on one. I think an hour of tutoring can be equal to a week in a classroom for some kids.
    Thank you Top Hat Tutors. Great way to give back.