When Zach Wahls was in the seventh grade, a teacher predicted he would one day become an educator.
Wahls, who thought that an off-base guess at the time, is now an 18-year-old University of Iowa freshman who recently launched a peer tutoring business, Iowa City Learns.
The hook, Wahls said, is that students in grade seven through 12 can get peer tutoring from teens close to their age who have recently studied the same subjects.
“I started thinking about how teachers have more and more students in their classes and it’s harder to give students the time they need,” the 2009 Iowa City West grad said. “Having somebody who has taken that class, in that age group, to help explain it, I think that really makes the difference.”
He sees his tutors as partners with teachers at West High and Northwest Junior High, where he offers the service.
After hatching the idea last spring, Wahls spent months working on a business plan. He invested money he earned lifeguarding in a Web site, www.iowacitylearns.com, and bought ads on Facebook.
He hired 10 tutors, all West High juniors and seniors with average grade points of 3.98 and ACT scores of 34. He had 35 kids apply for the tutoring jobs, and all had to provide letters of recommendation from honors or Advanced Placement teachers.
“These kids are sharp,” Wahls said.
Tutor Ella Brown, a 16-year-old West junior, likes that the tutoring is affordable. The standard fee is $25 for one hour, and prices vary based on subject or number of students in the session.
“School can be really stressful, even if you understand what’s going on,” Brown said. “If you don’t, then you can feel like you’re drowning.”
High school tutors know what teachers expect in honors and AP classes, Brown said.
“It hasn’t been so long ago that we forget the way we were thinking when we were in that class,” she said.
When school started this fall, Wahls talked to teachers at West High and Northwest Junior High about his tutoring business. He handed out pamphlets for teachers to pass on to interested parents and students.
He hopes to expand the services to other Iowa City schools and eventually offer tutoring scholarships to students on free and reduced lunch.
Andrea Keech, a language arts teacher at Northwest Junior High, said Wahls has always been a go-getter. She taught him in the eighth grade, when he was vice president of the student body and won a poetry contest. He helped teach Keech’s speech and debate club students when he was in high school.
“He was so impressive, even at 14,” Keech said. “He had a lot of great ideas and you had no doubt he was going to make them come true.”