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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.

The 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 (www.tophattutors.com).

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 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. 

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 tophattutors@gmail.com, or call 203-912-1645.)

*The high end, believe it or not

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