Top Notch Tutors

Edina High School students offer free test prep through their own nonprofit.
Edina High School students Dennis Bao, left, and Sid Ramesh aim to help students score well on college entrance exams.

Unlike some high school juniors and seniors, Sid Ramesh and Dennis Bao are not playing video games and eating junk food after school. Instead, these Edina High School students are working to expand the influence of their free tutoring service called Genesis Test Prep. Back in May, the duo founded the nonprofit organization after noticing a significant achievement gap that existed between students who were able to afford expensive private tutors and those who were not. “High-quality tutors cost around $150 an hour right now,” Ramesh says. “Even with Edina being an affluent community, a lot of people can’t afford that.” Tutors helped Bao and Ramesh during their preparation for college entrance exams and the two went on to achieve high initial ACT scores. Because of their success, they wanted to make sure all Edina students had the same access to this type of service, regardless of financial limitations. After re-taking the exam in September, Ramesh and Bao received scores of 35 and 36, respectively (the highest possible score is 36).

Bao and Ramesh currently work with 45-50 students, meeting with seven to eight each week. When they begin tutoring someone, Bao or Ramesh administers a full-length sample ACT test. After the sample test is scored, they sit down and discuss the student’s weaknesses by going through each question missed on the practice test. Genesis emphasizes one-on-one tutoring, with tutoring tailored to specific areas where students need help, rather than preparation for the whole test. For each session, the tutors print practice exams for their students, and then score them using ACT/SAT guidelines. At every meeting, Bao and Ramesh give students homework, which is reviewed at the next meeting. They also share test-taking tips and tricks that have worked for them.

“A lot of people think it’s a test that measures your intelligence, and that puts you in a mentality to fail because you don’t think you can improve that,” Bao says. Additionally, he and Ramesh work with the tests that ACT releases for review instead of using prep books such as Kaplan and Princeton because they believe those books don’t fully prepare students for the actual exam. “I’ve compared some of the math curriculum in some of the ACT books, and it’s not even in the required knowledge for the ACT,” Ramesh says.

Students who have worked with Bao and Ramesh are thrilled by the service and results. Shannon Beaulieu, who worked with Ramesh, says she feels much more prepared to take the ACT since he began tutoring her. She says she knows how to use her time efficiently, and has memorized formulas and grammar rules.

Sofia Stevenin took the ACT after only a few weeks of Bao’s tutelage and experienced dramatic improvement. Her test score rose by three points overall, and her math sub score jumped four points, rocketing from her lowest score to her highest. “Dennis helped me find the motivation and mindset to know I could do it,” Stevenin says. As a whole, Genesis students who have taken the ACT experienced a 2.1 point score increase.

Despite their success, Ramesh and Bao are still looking to leave a legacy in Edina. These ambitious students have begun working with Edina High School principal Bruce Locklear to incorporate Genesis into the school, making their services more accessible to the student body. They are also looking to launch Genesis branches at high schools in Eden Prairie and Inver Grove Heights. “[Sid and Dennis] have a deep-rooted sense of intellect coupled with a heart of service,” Locklear says.

As for their own futures, Bao, a senior, is in talks with Harvard’s alpine ski coach to hit the slopes for the Crimson next year, while majoring in economics or finance. Ramesh, a junior, will receive his math minor from the University of Minnesota at the end of year, and would like to focus on the multidisciplinary study of financial engineering.

“Even long after we’re gone, we want to keep [Genesis] a part of Edina High School,” Bao says.