By Katie Kelly, DLE Social Media Intern, Communications and Culture major with a concentration in Media and a dual minor in Sports Journalism and Digital Technologies and Emerging Media at Fordham University, New York, NY
Originally from upstate New York, DLE Alum Matt Barbaccia has spent the last four years working as a teacher in Hawaii. After graduating from Syracuse University in 2016 with an engineering degree in biomedical/medical engineering, Matt pursued an opportunity with Teach for America that brought him to the Hawaiian Islands.
He chose to stay after falling in love with everything he had experienced in his two-year program with Teach for America.
Matt envisioned continuing teaching in Hawaii for his future. But when the COVID pandemic hit, life changed. And so did his plans. Matt and his girlfriend, Carina Verhulsdonk, decided to change things up and move back to New York State, where he started his entrepreneurial journey of creating a tutoring program for high school and college students. His business is called Kokua Solutions LLC, the word Kokua meaning ‘to help’ in Hawaiian.
“I wanted to figure out how to strategically use what I have done the past few years and get more entrepreneurial,” he explains.
Through teaching, Matt saw many young people needed tutoring and extra support in a structured system that daily school life could not bring to them. With a 25:1 ratio in the classroom, there is little time for a teacher to review material with specific students who may be falling behind.
“The school system is so rigidly structured that there is no room to help students unless they take the time to stay late, which is often not an option as many of them work jobs and/or care for their multigenerational households after school hours,” adds Matt.
His idea quickly came to fruition. “I worked as a tutor during my time teaching, so I know the tricks of the trade. I am also great at finding clientele and using word of mouth to spread my business.”
Matt was not looking to create a tutoring program that was solely focused on hard facts. Matt wants to portray a more holistic view of education. “This is not going to be just about learning timetables and moving on. This business is going to focus on building relationships and mentorship for clients. Obtaining my Masters of Education from Johns Hopkins University helped me see the value of social-emotional learning, often called SEL. Focus on the relationship first, and the learning will follow. That’s the M.O.”
Currently, Matt is getting his expenses for the company set up and fine-tuning his ideas. He hopes to gain the rights to a new website and hosting platform and buy a new laptop to support the business through remote teaching. By the end of the summer and beginning of the fall, he hopes to advertise and promote the company—just in time for back to school.
Congratulations Matt for finding your silver lining amidst the daunting challenges of COVID.