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Intutorly, free virtual tutoring service for kids, wins first prize in high school entrepreneurship competition

Teens create free virtual tutoring programs
Teens organize free virtual tutoring programs to aid kids with remote learning amid pandemic 04:17

Intutorly, a free online tutoring service started by high school teenagers amid the pandemic, won first prize in the University of Delaware Horn Entrepreneurship's Diamond Challenge on Friday, weeks after it was featured in "CBS This Morning's" series A More Perfect Union

The story highlighted how high school students from around the country are helping younger kids bridge the digital divide through the service that pairs tutors with tutees. When the piece aired, Intutorly included about 1,000 kids — 500 tutors and 500 tutees. Intutorly's co-founders, Virginia teenagers Alex Joel and his younger brother Ben, say that in the month since then, the program has grown to help hundreds more kids.

"Thanks to the incredible coverage we are now up to 840 students (tutees), including students from more rural areas like Nebraska, Indiana, and we actually recently got students from Lakota Indian Reservation in South Dakota," Alex said in an interview with CBS News over the weekend. 

"We are now up to 700 tutors, so huge growth all around," Ben added.

Ben Joel (left) and his older brother Alex Joel (right)  started the virtual tutoring service Intutorly to help kids during the pandemic. Courtesy of Marlene Laro

The boys and Intutorly's former director of business development, Sophia Toback of North Carolina, first submitted a pitch deck and video for the Diamond Challenge in February. After the "CBS This Morning" story aired, they updated their materials and were selected as semifinalists out of a pool of over 5,000 students from 32 states and 55 countries. The semifinal round of the global high school entrepreneurial competition included participating in a three-day summit, panel Q&A and awards ceremony.

Intutorly was awarded $8,000 in prize money in the challenge's Social Innovation (non-profit) track. Alex and Ben said they will reinvest the money into Intutorly, building up its administrative staff so the service can continue to reach new students and tutors. They both described winning it all as surreal. 

"We were ecstatic," Alex said. "The competition was very steep and to finally realize that we came in first,  oh my gosh, it was incredible."

The week-long experience, where the semifinalists develop new entrepreneurial skills and attend workshops on everything from how to create an anti-racist culture to building your personal brand, is regarded as the top high school entrepreneurship competition in the world. It offers a total of $100,000 in prizes and resources to teens so they can take their ideas to the next level.

When the pandemic temporarily halted in-person learning last spring, studies suggest it caused a widening education gap for young students. After reading news articles on the potential learning loss, Alex and Ben decided to create this free service to tutor elementary students virtually.

With help from their classmates and peers, the group of high school tutors and younger tutees burgeoned through word of mouth, social media and media coverage. By the beginning of the 2020-21 school year, the service had connected hundreds of students from around the world. Intutorly is now building a bridge to the future in 35 states, the District of Columbia and seven countries.

It is one of several free, online tutoring services started by high school students during the pandemic to combat distance learning difficulties and isolation. The "CBS This Morning" story also profiled Educove, which was created by high school seniors in Brooklyn, New York, after its founders realized their younger siblings were having at-home learning challenges.

Today most students across the country are attending at least some form of in-person learning. More school districts have reopened classrooms in recent months, as teachers started to receive the COVID-19 vaccine and the CDC released updated guidance for safe in-person schooling.

Arthur Jones II (@arthurjonesii) is an Associate Producer for "CBS This Morning," based in his hometown of Washington, D.C.

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