Striving Weston seniors embrace entrepreneurial spirit

Steven Dampf and Hunter Burkard have started the Weston branch of a tutoring company to help local students. — Gregory Menti photo

Steven Dampf and Hunter Burkard have started the Weston branch of a tutoring company to help local students. — Gregory Menti photo

Steven Dampf and Hunter Burkard aren’t much different from your average Weston High School seniors. They play sports, they study hard and they’re finalizing their plans for college.

But unlike most seniors, Steven and Hunter are fully engaging in the entrepreneurial spirit by starting a Weston branch of Westport-based Top Hat Tutoring.

The pair, both 17, are running this student-organized tutoring business for Weston. They recently hired 10 Weston juniors and seniors to become tutors to help students in grades K-12.

“I reached out to Steven about possibly starting a tutoring company last year,” said Hunter. “Steven had a connection with the organization in Westport and we went from there.”

The pair hired their staff last week after posting an inquiry on a Facebook group. They had more than 30 applicants for the positions.

Steven, Hunter and their team are not volunteers. They get paid for their lessons and charge $40 an hour for the first tutee. Each additional student being tutored in the session is charged $20 an hour.

On top of the financial benefit, the boys said, they are naturally helpful people and this opportunity made sense for them.

“I like to work with kids. Over the summer and throughout the year I work at the YMCA,” said Hunter. “I think I’m a pretty smart guy and I thought I may as well exercise that through tutoring.”

Steven, a volunteer emergency medical technician (EMT), said helping others is second nature to him.

“I do a lot of community service and volunteer work and I’ve been performing well in school,” he said. “I might as well apply my knowledge, get a job and give people in Weston an affordable opportunity to be tutored by qualified students.”

He added that adult tutors often charge double what Top Hat Tutoring costs, and emphasized that students may be more comfortable working with other students.

Despite their youth, Hunter said, there has been no noticeable age bias in inquiries from parents who want their kids to be tutored.  

“I think people see it as supporting fellow students,” said Hunter. Steven intervened, adding that an intrinsic benefit of using students to help students is direct familiarity with the source.

“Our tutors have been in the Weston system for their whole lives or at the very least most of their lives. They have a lot of experience taking most of the classes,” Steven said. “For any given subject and any given class, there is a very high chance that at least one of our tutors was very proficient in that class.”

Background

Steven is a lifelong resident of Weston, while Hunter moved to town four years ago at the beginning of high school.

Hunter is a captain of the golf team at Weston High and helps manage the girl’s varsity basketball team. Steven is an accomplished tennis player who made the state finals last year for Weston.

Steven said he plans on majoring in biomedical engineering and neuroscience in college. He anticipates volunteering as an EMT at whatever school he goes to as well as playing club tennis.

“In college I plan on doing business and computer science,” said Hunter. “I might continue tutoring in college if everything goes well.”

The pair said their goal is to increase their business and the tutoring demand in Weston while segueing the business to Wilton as well.

Getting the word out has presented a challenge for the duo. Since they aren’t school-sanctioned, they aren’t allowed to advertise in the schools.

“They can’t support us or let us put anything up because we charge for tutoring,” said Steven. “We get why they can’t; it’s just a little disappointing.”

Ultimately, the pair believes they are providing a viable, comfortable tutoring service for the town, a niche that as of now they say has not been filled.

“Most of us have been in the Weston system our whole lives. It gives us the edge over other tutors even if they have a college education,” said Steven. “What we may lack in a college degree I think we make up for in personability.”

Hunter views Top Hat Tutoring as a way to lend his skills to Weston.

“We can provide tutoring for kids who need it,” said Hunter. “The town is centered on the schools and on education, and I think the opportunity is there for us. By supporting us you’re supporting kids who have been in Weston their whole lives.”

For more information, visit tophattutors.com.

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