The COVID NineTEEN Project: A Global Volunteer Tutoring Service

Since the beginning of worldwide stay-at-home orders due to Covid-19, students and parents alike have learned to become acquainted with remote learning. This road to learning to live life through screens has not come easy for parents and students, despite us living in the information age where production is based on information and computerization. Technology is all around us, but how can students as young as three years old be expected to maneuver the various educational sites they need to complete their remote learning by themselves? Parents have become necessary components to their child’s education since the spread of Covid-19, and it is debatable whether this is fair on households all over the globe. 

In 2019, the Bureau of Labor Statistics observed that 80.3 percent of employed mothers with children ages 6 to 17 worked full time, and fathers with children within that age range were employed full time at a rate of 96.1 percent. With the rise of the pandemic, many parents have had to continue to work full time at home, now with the added stress of aiding their children with their remote learning. 

The stress of constantly staying at home has not only affected parents, however. Over 50 million students in the U.S. alone are conditioned for 14 years of their life to go to school for nearly seven hours each day. With school comes a routine for many students, as well as a way to socialize and stay engaged with their school and community. This comfort has been taken away from students who thrive on structure or social support, the type of comfort that cannot be replaced by hours upon hours of homework posted to Google Classroom by educators who are trying to make sense of this new life as well. 

Luckily, The Covid NineTEEN Project is there to provide stressed parents, confused students, and financially struggling families with free teen-led activities and one-on-one tutoring. Founded by Sarah Shapiro and Skye Loventhal, The Covid NineTEEN Project is based in Los Angeles, California and is dedicated to aiding students all over the world in grades 1 through 5 to overcome and adapt to remote learning while taking stress off of parents.

The organization has amassed over 100 trained teen mentors, each one being a volunteer attending high school or early college. Despite Shapiro and Loventhal’s residence in California, students from anywhere can register. Only two weeks after its launch, there were already over 300 registered students from places ranging from various states to South Africa, Argentina, Bangladesh, and more. 

Shapiro and Loventhal have been best friends since the age of two. They are both children of educators and have seen the struggle of students adapting to at-home learning firsthand, Shapiro stating this as their main source of inspiration behind the project. “Since we both essentially grew up in the classroom being the daughters of educators, we felt compelled to use our abilities of working with kids and inspiring the next generation during this unprecedented time.”

Both girls have shown their passion for advocacy throughout their school careers, demonstrated by their positions of founding president and vice president of their high school’s Girl Up chapter. This unrelenting passion is what led them to want to step in and help students who have been deprived of regular school lessons, sports, arts classes, etc. They reached out to fellow students in their school’s International Baccalaureate (IB) Diploma Programme and began to build what they hoped would be a massive and helpful organization. 

The project’s board is made up of 17 teens who attend school with Shapiro and Loventhal, and their list of volunteers consists of teens from all over the Los Angeles Valley as well as throughout the United States. As members of Generation Z who aim to help the last of the children born into the generation, the organization finds the teen-led aspect of the project to be especially important. Loventhal describes their emphasis on this by stating:

“We think it provides a unique opportunity for mentor relationships to form.” says Loventhal. “As a child, I always loved when I got to work with the ‘big kids’ and I think that having everything run by teens creates this same connection and engages students in a new and exciting way for them.”

While students can find solace in having a teacher or parent there to guide them, seeking wisdom from teens can be just as beneficial for them as they can create bonds with mentors who are closer to their age and are willing to sympathize more with their situation. The dedicated teens of this project aim to serve the students they are leading and work towards making a difference in the world. 

Covid NineTEEN Project goes above and beyond expectations when it comes to the activities that they offer. Their one-on-one tutoring sessions include help in Math, English, History, and Science, all offered in multiple languages in order to best help students from anywhere in the world. Their weekly activities are where students can truly branch out and gain some sense of the life they lived when they were able to partake in special subjects at school, as the volunteers of the projects do not allow their creativity to be confined by Zoom calls.

One day of activities can include anything from classes similar to Fierce Females, where students are taught about the inspiring stories of female historical figures, to Intro to Filmmaking, where students learn all things filmmaking, to Little Ninjas Martial Arts, where students can learn a fun way to stay active. Activities change daily and always provide students with new perspectives where they can expand their skills and learn more about the world as they spend their summers isolated from their friends. 

The Covid NineTEEN project is a prime example of the power this generation has, especially with technology and social media at the disposal of almost anyone. The organization’s main method of advertising has been social media. “We truly used social media to our advantage since we could not communicate with anyone unless it was virtual. We were able to reach out to a lot of people by posting on educator and parent groups on Facebook. We also found a lot of our volunteers through promotional posts on Instagram,” Loventhal explains in regard to their expansion of over 100 mentors, 300 students, and now 700 followers. Networking also played a large role in the establishment of the project, as both girls were able to reach out to individuals they knew from extracurriculars who were passionate about advocacy and enacting social change. 

A project like this tends to raise the question of “why?” Why would high school students go out of their way to build an entire platform uplifting young students when they could focus on themselves? The answer is that Generation Z is undoubtedly full of people who strive for a better future for not only themselves, but for everyone around the world. We live in an age full of activists and changemakers, and the founders and volunteers that help this organization thrive are no different. Shapiro sums it up perfectly: “We did not found [The Covid NineTEEN Project] because of an assignment or some need for credit; we founded this project because we truly want to enact positive social change.” She continues to write, “I think that the incredibly fast growth of this project is indicative of the larger theme of how Gen Zers like ourselves are so drawn to the idea of making an impact on the world.”

The project as a whole is important. Students need ways to fulfill their days in the way that they could have at school, especially younger students whose development is based on gaining social and communication skills. Parents can also feel more comfortable knowing their children are engaged in educational and fun activities with teens who genuinely want to help. As Loventhal writes in her parting words,

“The students that we have worked with have demonstrated a desire to learn and grow and change the world as well and we are beyond proud to be able to be their inspiration and encouragement.”

Skye Loventhal

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