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Meet Sofia Ivanka of Building Smart Kids

Today we’d like to introduce you to Sofia Ivanka.

Thanks for sharing your story with us Sofia. So, let’s start at the beginning and we can move on from there.
My story starts in fourth grade when I was a student at a Montessori school. Although now I ended up majoring in Government at Harvard, at the time my forte at school was math. It was my favorite subject, and my mom who is a bio-chemistry engineer played a large role in teaching me and always enforcing the importance of mathematics. But, when I would meet with my friends from other schools, they would tell me how they struggled in understanding math. The traditional schooling system didn’t seem to work for them, something which I understood later on. So, in using the methods of my mom and some methods from my Montessori schooling, in addition to some ad-libs of my own, I would tutor all of my friends in math. I would get really creative and make stories and other games to teach them.

After the year ended, I realized I had a stack of material for teaching 4th-grade math. A couple of people, knowing of this material, then suggested I publish a book using these materials, so I worked on it myself and did get it published. This story repeated itself in 5th grade and that is how I ended up writing and publishing “Fourth Grade Math Rules” and “Fifth Grade Math Rules”. Since I am fluent in Spanish, I translated them as well. These books worked really well for kids because the explanations were written by a kid with a kid’s mindset, priorities, interests, and vocabularies. Therefore it was interesting, relatable, and thus efficient in being a support material.

Asking, “how can I help even more kids?” was what gave me the idea of creating an NGO dedicated in tutoring children, using the method I had used and knew worked. This is what prompted the founding of Building Smart Kids. After that, we quickly expanded. When we noticed some of our students had trouble in math because they had trouble in ESL, I wrote my third book called “The Formula of Language”, which is a Spanish to English guide.

I continued through middle school and high-school working hard on cementing and actually doing everything from the tutoring at all the schools, to administration, to grant writing, even to website building and logo designing. Now, we have created a good, small team that helps me with these tasks. We have various programs we provide and continue to expand geographically.

As for my educational journey, when I graduated high-school at 16, that summer I set off to Switzerland where I studied International Economics at a university there. I came back and the next year, I became a student at Harvard, where, as I mentioned, I concentrated in Government. During this time, I flew back and forth between Houston and Cambridge, MA to continue leading and growing Building Smart Kids. I graduated in May of 2019 and am excited to be dedicating my time to BSK.

We’re always bombarded by how great it is to pursue your passion, etc – but we’ve spoken with enough people to know that it’s not always easy. Overall, would you say things have been easy for you?
In both implementing our programs at schools and in gaining grants, reputation is very important. As an organization that has only been working for four years, growing and expanding was challenging at first as we were unknown and had no community presence. Getting people on board our initiative was also difficult, as some say it was too good to be true and didn’t believe we would follow through with tutoring year-round for free. But, as we have been incredibly active at the schools, within large and official institutions, creating a strong team, and on social media, we have been able to create the very reputation that is crucial.

So, as you know, we’re impressed with Building Smart Kids – tell our readers more, for example what you’re most proud of and what sets you apart from others.
Building Smart Kids (BSK) is a non- profit organization that I founded when I was in fourth grade. Prior to the founding of BSK, I wrote math books for fourth and fifth grade, “Fourth Grade Math Rules” and “Fifth Grade Math Rules.” They were published while I was in those respective grades and they were composed of the worksheets, stories, and games I used to tutor my friends at school and help them better their math skills. Afterwards, I quickly realized there was a large gap in the public education school system, primarily in math. This is when wanted to do more to reach out to children in need of extra help in these subjects, students who might not have access to a tutor or to books like mine.

In 2010, I created Building Smart Kids, an organization that focuses on bridging the gaps in math, initially it was only math. We prepared our program and our plan of action to begin actually functioning in 2014. The organization was founded on the belief that every student needs to have a teacher’s undivided attention for at least once a month to reach his or her maximum potential. BSK curricula and teaching method is very unique. We use a method of teaching that incorporates Montessori concepts to teach each student using kinesthetic, auditory, and visual methodologies by creating materials and games for the children so that they have the opportunity to learn and obtain the necessary math skills to be successful adults. Our method applies to all of their senses. We also adjust our curriculum to be a direct supplement to the order of learning topics at school. If they are learning about fractions in the classroom, our tutoring session is about fractions. This way, our classes are most efficient. BSK is dedicated to tutoring with a low student to tutor ratio, no larger that 10:1, to assure no child is left behind.

The program had already produced promising results in state-administered tests, and because of this, our organization was asked to start working with third graders in Literature, which did in creating “English for All” program along with the third book I published called “The Formula of Language”, an ESL guide for other students who may also need that help. In the USA, we provide services in Houston, Pasadena, Tomball, Katy, and Alief. But, we also provide our completely free and high-quality tutoring services abroad. In India, we have an ESL program for high-school girls through a partnership with an organization that rescued these girls from prostitution and sex trafficking. While in Honduras and Panama, we provide out fourth-grade math program directly to the schools on-the-ground, converting all material, curricula, website, manuals, and everything else to Spanish. Additionally, to provide consistent and young tutors that are enthusiastic to work with children and help their community, we are working with Texas Southern University, Houston Community College, and The Technological University of Panama to provide with volunteer and work opportunities to college students.

BSK commits to helping children in-need and at-risk because we believe that every child deserves a better education. Thus, we have made it our priority to take our system to underprivileged schools. Our organization continues to grow, commit and engage with children coming from disadvantaged backgrounds at no cost to schools, parents, or students.

So, what’s next? Any big plans?
I plan to continue to lead Building Smart Kids into expanding our efforts even more, across the US and the world. I hope to create more partnerships to reinforce our services. I also plan to go to graduate school in the future.

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