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Kid by Kid: Bishop’s School student’s tutoring nonprofit helps immigrant kids, despite pandemic

Daxton Gutekunst, a 15-year-old sophomore at The Bishop's School, started a tutoring nonprofit two years ago.
Daxton Gutekunst, a 15-year-old sophomore at The Bishop’s School in La Jolla, started the nonprofit Kid by Kid two years ago to tutor children from refugee and immigrant families.
(Courtesy)

Daxton Gutekunst, a 15-year-old sophomore at The Bishop’s School in La Jolla, is working to ensure that his nonprofit, Kid by Kid, continues to provide tutoring services to those who need it most, despite the coronavirus pandemic.

Kid by Kid, which Daxton started two years ago as an eighth-grader, normally provides weekly in-person tutoring sessions to elementary and middle school students ages 5-13 from a mix of refugee and immigrant families who often are learning English. But because of pandemic restrictions, he’s reorganized to an online format.

Daxton founded the nonprofit after a year tutoring students weekly in Normal Heights through his school’s community service program. His affinity for that kind of service grew.

“You would see these children develop not only academically but physically and emotionally as well,” Daxton said. “This provided a great outlook on the lives of these children, who seem so far and separated, but they’re just in Normal Heights, a few miles away.”

The program Daxton originally signed up with moved farther away, with little opportunity for him or his peers to continue.

“This was really a shame,” he said. “[Our] passion was still there. The tutors loved helping the students; there was just no way to implement it.”

Daxton said he searched for a platform that provided “the same dynamic of one-on-one peer tutoring that had students helping students.” He didn’t find one and decided to form his own “to try to help my community in a similar way.”

He founded Kid by Kid and partnered with the Haitian Ministry of San Diego in Normal Heights, organizing a group of teenagers to meet at the church on Saturday afternoons.

Daxton and his peers would tutor children from local schools and “bond with the students over pizza and academics,” he said. “It was a fantastic dynamic.”

Tutoring sessions also included a quick trip to a nearby grassy area “to work out some of that [excess energy] so they can focus some more,” Daxton said. “It’s not just about the academics. It’s about the relationship that’s created.”

The Kid by Kid tutoring model is “individual between each student and tutor pair,” he said. “That’s one of the benefits of Kid by Kid. We’re able to actively pair a tutor with a student to tailor to needs that might have gone unnoticed by a school.”

Kid by Kid founder Daxton Gutekunst greets pastor Jean Elise Durandisse of the Haitian Ministry of San Diego.
Kid by Kid founder Daxton Gutekunst greets pastor Jean Elise Durandisse of the Haitian Ministry of San Diego. The two organizations partner to tutor local students.
(Courtesy)

Daxton said this means “interspersed fun activities” for younger students and a larger focus on homework help for older students.

To recruit peers as tutors, Daxton worked with a community service advisor to send emails to fellow students at Bishop’s and had friends at other schools spread the word.

He said about 12 tutors participate each week out of a total of 25. They concentrate mostly on reading, writing and math but can help with science, history and other subjects as needed, Daxton said.

“It’s really tailored to the students’ needs,” he said. “I think that’s one of the most valuable parts, is that we are able to customize these courses for these students.”

After the pandemic forced schools to close in March, Kid by Kid went through “a bit of a jump, taking [tutoring] from physical to virtual,” Daxton said. “But I think we made the step with relative ease.”

Daxton said it was important to him to maintain relationships with the students his organization serves. “All of us are going through the same thing,” he said. “It’s not something that is uniquely affecting Kid by Kid. We as a community have to move forward.”

Kid by Kid now pairs tutors and students online, and its services are needed more than ever, Daxton said. With so many students missing school in person and “missing opportunities for education, we had a big influx” of students needing services the past several months. “We tried to close the COVID education gap.”

Though tutoring has gone online, Daxton said he’d like to think “nothing has changed other than the environment. It’s still one-on-one tutoring on Saturdays. We tried to make it as accessible as possible.”

Challenges with online tutoring did arise, such as making sure students had access to the necessary technology and internet services. But Daxton said the students’ parents have helped ensure a smooth transition.

Daxton said he’s “always had somewhat of a passion” for helping other kids, noting that he often offers to care for those in his Mission Hills neighborhood. “I’ve tried to be a positive influence.”

He typically puts in about 15 hours per week on the Kid by Kid program, mostly evenings and weekends, on top of his own schoolwork.

Daxton is looking for more teens to join Kid by Kid as tutors. “I think education is something we can relate to on a very personal level,” he said. “At this point, it’s our entire lives. And for some kids to just not have that benefit of being able to go into school and have a buddy to talk to about their academic or emotional problems, that’s to [their] detriment. We would love to have new tutors willing to join in.”

For more information, visit kidbykid.org.

San Diego Union-Tribune staff writer Deborah Sullivan Brennan contributed to this report.