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Amanda DoAmaral: Advanced Placement as a Service
Amanda DoAmaral felt out of her depth as an AP teacher. As it turns out, that's exactly what the system needed. Amanda's Fiveable connects students, as the "hallways of the educational internet".
Amanda DoAmaral was not “made” to be a teacher. She took the courses during college because it felt like something she would be good at. Working with students was fun. When she got her first job and was thrown into the deep end teaching Advanced Placement courses, however, she quickly learned that there was so much more to being a great educator. After burnout, travel, and a congressional campaign, Amanda came back to education and has created a virtual “hallway” for students to achieve more - to learn more and to be more confident - than she imagined was possible.
Into the Fray
When Amanda started teaching, the AP World History class would generally have about 20 students, primarily of White or Asian heritage. At a school that was 60% Black and Hispanic, that proportion didn’t make sense to her. By simply encouraging students to take a risk and accept the challenge that they can achieve more, Amanda was able to grow the class size to include students who previously didn’t believe they could handle the harder subjects.
Amanda gives credit to teachers before her for setting her up for success. In the years before she joined their ranks, the teachers were grouped into pods and given a lot of latitude to help each other and make decisions for their students that would improve the experience for both teachers and students.
With their work, they were able to take a pass rate of roughly 15% each year and move it to 70%, all while including more and more students each year. They weren’t being selective. AP had, for years, been the “gifted” track, but even the supposedly smarter students were struggling. The changes Amanda and her colleagues made were key to helping students succeed. They found new ways to teach the material - focusing more on writing than reading the history books, for example - and helped students believe that it was possible to reach goals they thought were beyond them.
If they look at [AP courses] and think, “I can do that.”, that is something that is going to take them a lot further. The content, the skills, all the things that go into it, were kind of a cherry on top.
Teaching kids to be confident takes a lot of work, though, and after five years, Amanda burned out. She loved her job, but it was hard. It was time for a change.
Burnout and Adventure
Amanda always loved to travel. During her education career, she would take every opportunity to go with a group of friends to wherever airplanes would take them.
When she quit teaching, she decided to travel - this time alone, and all over the world. She started in Scotland, then journeyed to Poland for a month to explore her family’s Jewish history. From there, Amanda went to Egypt and then to Nepal.
After Nepal, Amanda went to Thailand for 10 days. She couldn’t enjoy traveling any more, though, thanks to things going on back in the USA. The 2017 Vegas shooting had just happened, and Amanda knew that she couldn’t ignore current events to continue her adventures.
Amanda returned to the States and joined a congressional campaign as a finance fellow. That put her in a house with another four people, paying her next to nothing, but it did cover rent. She spent her days calling people and asking for donations. It was there that Amanda realized that her tech skills were far more advanced than her coworkers. She could do in ten minutes what some of her bosses expected to take a week.
Students got back in touch with Amanda during her time on the finance crew. They felt that they weren’t being prepared for the AP exam and needed not only encouragement, but direction. Amanda quit her work at the finance committee, moved back home with her Mom, and used her tech skills to start working on what was to become Fiveable.
For two years, Amanda worked to create Fiveable. She began to build communities of students in her old school, and quickly expanded to others as the students would tell their friends both in person and online. Amanda became an organizer more than a teacher, and worked to design a system that allowed students to connect and learn with each other. All she had to do was provide direction.
After two years, a few accelerators, and a lot of work, Amanda finally raised a Seed round. That meant she could spend more to build a better Fiveable. Better systems meant more interest from students, and as they adapted to the changing landscape with Covid-19 and an educational internet boom, Fiveable raised more money still, closing a $10 million round in September 2021 to go on top of over $4 million raised already. All that’s left is for Amanda and her cofounder, Tan Ho, to build the vision.
Over 15,000 students have joined to date to study for AP exams and spend time with each other. The “hallways of the educational internet” are just getting started.
Amanda’s story is notable because in some ways, she just followed a path set before her. It wasn’t the easy path, however. Her work with students led them to love and trust her - to the point that even a couple years removed from her previous job, they were still calling and asking for help. These students had been shown what was possible with a teacher who was willing to pour her soul into helping them become more. They wanted to be able to continue challenging themselves, but needed some help.
Fiveable is incredible because it offers free ways for students to work together. It’s going to be a success, though, because it gives them the freedom to interact without boundaries. Students can group together for activities outside of History or Mathematics and form bonds online with people they never would have met otherwise.
Study is important, but the support and friendship Fiveable facilitates is their secret sauce. You better believe Amanda knows how to mix it.