When the pandemic hit in early 2020, the effects were immediate: hospitals were short on overworked workers, people quarantined in their homes, public and private institutions—schools, workplaces, hotels, malls, etc.—shut down, and thousands were sick with COVID-19. Though the pandemic affected everyone differently, everyone was affected regardless.
As a student myself—a sophomore in high school at the time—I experienced first-hand COVID’s impact on education and schooling. As schools across the world closed and learning went digital, both staff, students, and parents were unsure as they tried to navigate this unprecedented issue of how to teach students from home.
Coming from a district where the education was above average, I was grateful to have a device where I could access my work and complete it. Yet the more I scrolled through the internet and social media, I became increasingly aware of the varying situations of others. While all school districts were hurt by the pandemic, some were harmed far more than others--I read that high-income districts missed only about 3 weeks of school due to the pandemic, while low-income districts in the United States missed about 3 months of school. This was measured by the content and coursework lost due to the transition and the lack of access to education of many in communities where unemployment, poverty, and low-income households were high.
I saw on the news how many students didn’t have access to devices, Wifi, or even food at their houses, and immediately grew frustrated at how unfair the educational disparity was. Pre-pandemic, many of the low-income districts didn’t have adequate education in the first place. Then add in the pandemic: How would it further harm these schools--these students and their right to a proper education?
Always having been a responsible student, I was aware of the importance of education. Education not only grants opportunity, but it creates knowledgeable individuals vital for our future. Due to the unjust system and laws, for many, education isn’t even an option. Sitting in my room, I grew propelled to do something about this issue. I also became aware that I could do something, that I was in the position--regardless of my age--to create change and provide students lacking access to education with personalized academic guidance during a time when it was needed more than ever.
I came up with the idea of Youth Promise, a student-run organization that would provide under-served youth such as inner-city youth, youth experiencing homelessness, youth from low-income households, and foster care youth with individual tutoring and group enrichment classes on various subjects. Tutors would be qualified student volunteers, and all sessions would be 100% free and virtual. The last two components were vital to its mission.
From reaching out to peers, Youth Promise came to life as a youth-led non-profit that has connected tutors and tutees from various cultures and backgrounds, providing over 1,000 lessons. In addition to individual tutoring sessions on a range of subjects, group classes on both academic and arts topics such as social-justice, drawing, anatomy, debate, and vocational skills are given. A year and a few months later, Youth Promise has over 500 high school and university volunteers from numerous countries, such as the United States, Japan, India, Nigeria, and more! During an uncertain time, the power of teamwork and a common goal proved that change is possible, regardless of age. We’ve partnered with charter schools, orphanages, shelters, and organizations to connect with more youth whom we can provide services to. Our tutors taught over 250 under-served youth not just in the United States but in Bangladesh, Vietnam, and Kenya.
Through Youth Promise, we show youth they aren’t defined by their circumstances. We strive to use education as a way to empower youth to fulfill their potential and achieve success. Education should be the stability in the lives of youth, especially during unprecedented times.