The COVID-19 pandemic has made it feel as if the world has stopped moving. Everyone is stuck at home and nothing feels normal anymore, but life still goes on. People have more free time now than ever, but have absolutely no idea what to do with it. For teens Sarah Shapiro and Skye Loventhal, the virus did not stop them from making the most of their quarantine. These Granada Hills Charter students co-founded The Covid NineTEEN Project, a teen-led initiative that provides access to free educational resources for elementary school students. As daughters of educators, both Sarah and Skye understand the pressure that these lifestyle changes have put on young children, especially in terms of their education. Shapiro emphasizes, “We knew that we needed to address the difficulties students are having with acclimating to distance learning and make an everlasting impact on their lives during these unprecedented times.” Through The Covid NineTEEN Project, 1st through 5th grade elementary school students have access to free daily tutoring and activities. On weekdays, sessions are available from 3:00 pm to 6:00 pm PST, and from 9:00 am to 3:00 pm PST on weekends. However, the project is expanding starting June 15th in order to kick off their new summer programming, with sessions held between 9:00 am and 5:00 pm PST every single day! Currently, The Covid NineTEEN Project is run by its co-founders, 15 board members, and 100+ trained teen mentors. With the new summer expansion approaching, they are looking to accept and train 100 more! The organization has over 400 students registered for their programming worldwide. While their students are primarily located in the United States, they also have kids attending sessions from South Africa, Argentina, Bangladesh, Canada, and more! The tutoring program consists of one-on-one sessions where teen mentors are there to assist children with anything they need help with. Tutoring is offered in 14 different languages for the core school subjects: English, Math, Science, and History. To find out which languages are offered on which days, you can check the schedule under the “Tutoring” tab on their website, covidnineteenproject.com.
Similarly, they offer engaging teen-led activities that change on a weekly basis. Some of their more popular sessions include a Tik Tok Dance Class, an Epic Lego Challenge, Journaling, Step-by-Step Drawing, Harry Potter read alouds, and more! To sign up, you can visit the “Activities” tab on their website! Board member Jasmine Boosanong reveals what leading these activities mean to her, as she says, “After teaching a Tik Tok dance class for a school in Argentina, I saw that it didn’t matter if there was a language barrier because we all shared the same love and passion for dance. Even in times of isolation, it's amazing that we’re able to connect with these children not only on a local, but global scale.” The organisation is astonished by their extensive growth over one short month of launching and are excited to see their program expand even further.
Being a teen-led initiative, The Covid NineTEEN Project truly demonstrates the power that the younger generation holds. Through speaking up and enacting positive social change, they can truly impact the lives of others. Volunteer Jessica Herrera affirms, “I joined the program to hopefully inspire kids through these uncertain times, but I didn’t realise how much they would inspire me. I’ve had the pleasure of working with and meeting so many wonderful kids, and they’ve inspired me to be better for them.” Not only that, but this project also combats educational inequalities by providing free access to these educational resources for young students, no matter who they are or where they come from. Board member Danielle Anz states, “Not everyone has the same access to educational or entertainment resources during this time, so I hope that our free program is able to provide that for some people. I love working with kids and I hope that our program is able to brighten someone’s day and provide an escape from the scary reality that we are living in.”
Parents have been tasked with balancing their work, home, and personal lives, all while trying to take care of their children. One of the goals of this program is to provide a fun and safe space for children, all while easing some of the stress on parents by providing an entertainment outlet for their kids. Co-founder, Skye Loventhal expresses, “As teens who are passionate about advocacy, we knew we wanted to do something to help, and this seemed like an amazing way for us to contribute to our community and beyond.”
However, it’s not only the volunteers who are so passionate and ecstatic towards the project, but also the kids. They enjoy it so much that they are eager to come back to their favorite classes each week. Board member Anisha Haque states, “One of the activities I co-lead, Poetry, has been a top favorite for many. I always recognise a few of the same faces each week. This brings the biggest smile to my face, because I know not only is this class exciting for me, but it's enjoyable for the kids. A girl even stated that Poetry was her favorite class, and that she is always thrilled to sign up for it each week. I then realised these weren’t just simple classes, but an impactful space where kids were able to express themselves and grow friendships in an engaging way.” With overwhelming gratitude, parent Rosanne G. testifies, “Thank you so much for all the terrific activities you offer and for giving my daughter something to look forward to each week! She loves the variety and is really drawn to the teachers. They serve as such great role models for her. She wouldn’t fall asleep last night because she was too busy creating haikus and limericks, which were covered in her favourite Poetry class!! Keep up the great work. We are grateful!” These bonds don’t just occur in the activity lessons, but stretch out to the tutoring division as well. The tutors are able to connect with their students so well, that sometimes the parents specifically ask for that tutor again. This instance can be seen with board member Litzuly Castillo as she says, “After tutoring a child with her English homework, her mother came into the frame and started to thank me, asking what days I tutored English, and that made my heart smile!”
The project has been extremely rewarding for all the students involved. For board member Komal Sandhu, she has found bringing comfort to children in these troubling times the most rewarding part of the project. “I held an Art Challenge class with my fellow board member Anisha, and we decided to make zebra masks. Seeing all of the children’s faces light up, when they put on the mask, made my entire day!”, Sandhu says. Teen mentors have created incredibly unique activities, such as a Virtual Escape Room and the Epic Lego Challenge. Children can choose from a wide range of athletic, academic, and artistic activities to participate in. The activities not only provide a unique way of keeping children stuck at home engaged, but they also allow teen mentors to pass on their passions to children.
In addition, many of the teen mentors enjoy being positive role models in the lives of elementary school students. Board member Hayley Song loves that she can share her passion about computers with children and use her trilingual skills to communicate effectively, even with non-English speakers. “Learning computer science is a privilege in selected public schools and I love that I am able to teach these skills to students during these unprecedented times, and have them so engaged and willing to learn. Aside from coding as well, during one of my tutoring sessions, my non-English speaking student was so excited that I was able to communicate with him in Korean. As the session was ending, he pleaded, asking to stay just a little bit longer and asked if he could write down my name to request me for his tutor for the following week. The enthusiasm and reciprocated energy of these children just make my day!”, Song shares. Not only is the project impacting the lives of elementary students, but they are also impacting the lives of the teen mentors involved.
The support and response that the project has gotten from their local community goes to further prove the increasing impact they have had. The organisation receives emails almost every day telling them just how much parents appreciate what they are doing and it makes them all smile, ear to ear. Parents have also been incredible in spreading the message throughout their own communities. It is incredible for The Covid NineTEEN Project, as a program, to see such community support. They are beyond thankful for their community being so incredibly supportive and encouraging of their efforts! Co-founder Shapiro writes: “This project has truly been a life-changing experience for myself, the board members, the students we serve, and all of our volunteers. I will be forever grateful for the initiative that so many teens have decided to take in joining us on this philanthropic endeavour, and I cannot wait to see this project continue to grow in the future.”
Written by The Outreach Division of The Covid NineTEEN Project
Co-heads of Outreach Division