U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is searching for tutors in New York City to help with her new Homework Helpers Program.

Late last month, New York City controversially closed public schools again because of the rising COVID-19 infection rate. Ocasio-Cortez decided to step in and create the Homework Helpers Program for students in her congressional district, which includes the eastern part of The Bronx, part of north-central Queens, and Rikers Island.  

According to Parents, the congresswoman ran the pilot program for four weeks which helped 100 students living in the Throggs Neck neighborhood of The Bronx. Ocasio-Cortez said the larger program hopes to serve about 1,000 students in the 2020-2021 school year.

“It was important for our community to step in and do what we do best, which is to empower and organize local families and leverage our robust volunteer base," she told Parents. "As elected officials, we should step in to support our constituents when systems fail to do so."

She has now decided to expand the program so that any student in New York's 14th congressional district could have access to one hour of free virtual homework help each week.

According to the initiative's website, the organization is creating a pool of volunteer tutors who can help fill some of the gaps left by virtual learning. They are specifically looking for tutors who can speak Spanish, Bangla, Urdu, Mandarin, Cantonese, Korean, French and Kru. You can sign up here to be a tutor. 

"As many of you have probably heard, New York City public schools recently closed. Children who were attending school in person were abruptly switched to remote learning. With less than one day’s notice, families had to resume juggling working, childcare, and schooling," an appeal posted to the Homework Helpers website read. 

"While a small number schools have recently reopened, the vast majority of children will continue remote learning. The difficulties of remote learning have a higher impact on working class families. That's why we're asking you to step up as a volunteer tutor to help address the inequities in the educational system. With the new school closures, Team AOC has set a goal of serving 1,000 students for the 2020-2021 school year," it added. 

The shift to virtual learning has been a challenge in some cities and states, with millions of children effectively missing a year of school due to problems ranging from a lack of devices to a lack of Wi-Fi at home, according to The New York Times and The Washington Post. There are also millions of children who have disabilities or issues that make it difficult for them to handle learning through a computer screen.

All of these problems have been exacerbated by a lack of federal and local funding to help school districts manage both the pandemic and the digital tools needed to educate children right now. It has also put a massive burden on parents, who have to effectively serve as part-time teachers. 

Pew Research Center released findings that showed that seven in 10 parents have had to provide additional teaching and tutoring themselves.

In New York City and many other cities, this problem acutely affects Black and brown children attending chronically underfunded schools and living in neighborhoods with poor internet access. 

In a YouTube video, AOC campaign political organizer, Jonathan Soto, said they were able to spread the word about the program through local parent groups and teacher networks. Once children are signed up, parents simply have to send the tutor a photo of the homework and then set up a session with the tutor.

"The congresswoman has a huge network of empathetic, amazing volunteers, and we put out a call for people who had experience with tutoring, and we had 500 people who responded. We're very intentional about understanding a family's needs. Technology is an issue for many. The digital divide is real in The Bronx. People are grateful that a tutor can call them up and help them with entering into the Zoom room or troubleshooting," Soto said.

"Anyone can do this. We encourage everyone -- parents or high school students -- to work with their PTAs to reach out to your local community. If you have 20 people who are willing to give one hour per week for four weeks, you'll be able to service an entire class," he added.