Teens Tutor Teens At Student-Created Firm

By Daniel de Vise
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, September 7, 2008

When Ann Connelly telephoned a tutoring company she read about in the newspaper, she was surprised to find herself talking to a teenage boy in his dorm room at NYU.

Erik Kimel, 22, has spent the past five years building a tutoring service for families in suburban Washington while completing a college education in New York.

Private tutoring is big business in the Washington suburbs. And now it is a full-time job for Kimel, who graduated this spring and can devote his full attention to Peer2Peer Tutors, the company he founded five years ago as a senior at Winston Churchill High School in Potomac. Peer2Peer pairs mostly struggling students with older teens culled from the cream of Montgomery high schools.

"I thought the concept was brilliant, and I told him that," said Connelly, a North Potomac mother who hired Kimel's tutors three years ago for her sons.

Kimel is preoccupied at the moment with moving out of his SoHo apartment and his Potomac family home and settling into his first official post-collegiate dwelling. He appears to be nearing his pre-collegiate goal, which was to build a business that would support him after graduation.

In the past academic year, Peer2Peer employed 130 tutors and served 176 students, at rates of $35 to $45 an hour. Kimel says gross revenues were in the low six figures. The firm was inducted into the Montgomery County Business Incubator Network during the summer, which meant board meetings could move from Starbucks into a proper office in Rockville.

Kimel says the idea came to him in Ms. Williams's first-period Advanced Placement calculus class at Churchill. The class roster read like that of a mathematical all-star team, but other kids at Churchill were struggling -- especially in math, but also in science, foreign languages and, sometimes, such basic organizational skills as the timely completion of homework.

He placed a $50 ad in a local weekly paper: "Students learn best from other students. Any subject. Any grade. Call Erik."

Three students replied, and Peer2Peer was born.

"Students learn best from other students," Kimel said. "You want a peer. You want someone close to your own age."

Kimel's tutors must have a 3.7 unweighted GPA or fluency in a foreign language. Many go on to Ivy League schools. Indeed, one selling point of Peer2Peer is access to a network of former tutors strategically stationed at college campuses. Kimel's human resources director, Emily Shniderman, is a sophomore at NYU, while Jessie Cai, who reviews applications from prospective tutors, works from a dorm at Northwestern.

The tutors are intimately familiar with the rigorous Montgomery County curriculum that their clients are struggling to master.

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