By Nishi Uppuluri and Aditi Pyakurel
Can children from all over the nation be taught in a fun way online? Can they learn to actually enjoy writing? Can writing be taught with technology? The answer to all of these questions is a resounding YES!
In September 2020, Nishi Uppuluri, a then high school junior from Scarsdale, NY, began a Zoom writing class, Pything4All, for her local community. Prior to starting this program, she, along with some of her peers, ran a series of virtual playgroups known as E-Playz in order to provide young children with social interaction and entertainment during the pandemic. During E-Playz, the instructors noticed that many of the participants enjoyed writing creative stories and partaking in writing games. The program was a hit with both the participants and their parents alike, and at its conclusion in mid-August 2020, many of the families were left wanting more. This prompted Nishi to start Pything4All, a free organization run by high school students that helps children improve their writing skills in a fun way.
A unique characteristic of Pything4All is that the teachers not only assess the students’ work using their writing abilities, but they also use Artificial Intelligence (AI). The AI tool utilized is similar to Grammarly, except it is geared more towards young children. The main benefits of this tool are that it is efficient, accurate, and most of all, does a strong job giving children individualized comments on where they can improve specific aspects of their writing.
Since last September, the organization has been able to expand from ten students in NY to seventy students from different locations nationwide – most prominently, Reynoldsburg, OH, where more than 40% of the students come from. In order to keep up with the rapidly increasing enrollment numbers and keep the organization running smoothly, a total of sixteen high schoolers and middle schoolers from NY, PA, and OH volunteer to teach classes, do outreach, and work on other administrative tasks.
Four of the main volunteers, known as board members, are Saumya Sawant, Aditi Pyakurel, and Mekhala and Meghana Mantravadi. Saumya, who was the first volunteer for Pything4All, is the chief of communications, a role which entails communicating with the participants and their parents on class requirements and responding to emails from interested participants. Aditi is the PR manager as well as leader of Pything4All’s Ohio chapter – it was actually her who decided to spread word of the organization to her local Reynoldsburg community after learning about it from Nishi. Mekhala is the chief of technology, where she oversees Zoom operations and designs flyers and websites for the organization, and finally, Meghana is the treasurer and the leader of Pything4all’s summer programs.
Pything4All operates on Zoom year-round. During the school year, classes occur every week for an hour in twelve-week sessions. Before each session begins, all the students are tested on their writing abilities and put into one of four classes – Beginners, Intermediate, Accelerated, or Advanced. Weekly classes continue during the summer alongside Camp4All, Pything’s day camp which meets every other day for three hours in three-week sessions. All classes, regardless of length, begin with a lesson about an area of writing the students seem to be struggling the most with, followed by a fun project to practice these skills. Past projects include creating an Olympics schedule to practice verb usage and making superhero comics to practice description.
Both the children and the parents involved in Pything4All seem to enjoy the class experience immensely. Upon being asked what their favorite part of class is, one second grader replied by saying, “Everything.” He continued, stating that “…I love my teacher and the dragon stories we worked on. I also love all the new friends I’ve made!”. Another student’s mom was thrilled when she saw her third grade daughter’s improved grades in English, and credits Pything4All for “…giving her the motivation to write and teaching her how to actually love writing.”
With the success Pything4All has seen in Ohio and New York, its next mission is to expand internationally and start a chapter in India. In order to do this, Pything4All is doing a fundraiser raffle to pay for better WiFi systems and tablets for interested students. By expanding to further and further places around the globe, the organization hopes to fulfill its motto of democratizing writing education for all students regardless of economic status.