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College students help working moms stay in the workforce with virtual tutoring

Courtesy Pilar McDonald


(NEW YORK) — Alana Achtekirchen is a single mom of two elementary school-aged kids living in San Francisco. She’s been doing her best to get through the day-to-day challenges of living through the COVID-19 pandemic, the recent wildfires and heat waves, multiple school shutdowns and a complicated remote learning schedule. Taken together, these have made it all but impossible to find a sense of normalcy in 2020.

Fortunately, she was introduced to Project Matriarchs, an initiative to help mothers — many of whom shoulder a disproportionate burden of caretaking and homeschooling responsibilities — with tools such as virtual tutoring and child care.

“Project Matriarchs is like the clouds parting a little bit,” Alchterkirchen told ABC News’ Good Morning America.

Project Matriarchs’ founders Lola McAllister and Pilar McDonald are college students who took a gap year during the pandemic and are dedicating their time off to help mothers stay in the workforce.

“We just kind of thought about what can we leverage as young women in college with networks of other college students — time and energy,” McAllister said. “What can we leverage towards some sort of solution?”

McAllister said she and her friend saw a real need to help support working mothers during the pandemic.

“We were reading those articles and just talking about how impossible it seems that it’s really falling completely on women to take care of homeschooling and child care while maintaining their professional roles right now,” she said.

According to the National Women’s Law Center, nearly 2.2 million women have left the workforce since the pandemic began. At least one in four women are considering downsizing their careers or leaving the workforce due to challenges created by the pandemic, a study by McKinsey and found.

Project Matriarchs matches college students, many of whom currently have flexible schedules due to their own remote learning, with families to provide virtual academic support and/or mentorship to the child.

For Achtekirchen, Project Matriarchs was a lifeline and invaluable for her kids.

“Project Matriarchs has given my kids some hope for their future and a connection to a young adult who is like family to my kids,” she said.

Her daughter, Sophia, is matched with Gillian Clouser, a tutor studying at Yale who is pre-med, which, she said, suits her daughter well. Her son, CJ, is “very verbal, artistic and musical” and is enjoying having “100% attention” from his tutor, Gabriel Cary Boyd, who is taking a gap year from studies at Stanford.

Achtekirchen, who is grateful for time to work on her own projects, said Project Matriarchs is a lending hand through life’s daily hurdles.

“One day, after the pandemic, we look forward to meeting our tutors in person to thank them,” she added.

Since launching in early September, Project Matriarchs has matched 86 families with tutors, who are vetted by McDonald and McAllister. Although they are excited about the immediate impact, they have their hopes set on inspiring a bigger conversation about gender norms and corporate support for working mothers.

“How are we going to expect more from our employers in terms of supporting us as potential parents when we enter the workforce?” McDonald said. “And we think that our peers and the next generation entering the workforce will feel similarly. We’re kind of exploring how to leverage those kinds of preferences and expectations … to [bring] conversations about the intersection of caregiving and work to the forefront.”

Added McAllister: “We’re not necessarily at the age of working parents but many of us will be there one day.”

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