By Karen Mai
CovEducation is a free mentorship and academic support resource run by volunteer college mentors from MIT, Harvard, UT Austin, and Princeton during the COVID-19 pandemic. Their goal is to assist students from kindergarten through high school with course work (regular/honors/advanced placement), college preparation and standardized testing (SAT, ACT, etc). Student mentees connect with their mentors through video chat platforms Zoom, Google Hangouts, and Skype.
Evelyn Wong, Harvard ’21, founded CovEducation after watching the COVID-19 shutdowns affect her peers and herself. When college students were kicked out of their dorms, they lost the on-campus experience, from clubs to classes. Feeling this loss, Wong traveled back home and realized how most K-12 students across America were also losing their education as their schools were being shut down. Many schools struggled with educational inequities laid bare in the transition to virtual learning.
Within the span of three days following Harvard’s transition online, Wong created a group of eight peers to start this organization. Dheekshita Kumar, MIT ’20 and head of the technology team, said that the start-up process was very immediate and that they “all met up” prior to knowing everyone in the group. However, each member was actively taking on parts of the project to prepare for the launch: outreach, web development, and logistics. They launched on March 17th.
Since its inception, this program has been entirely volunteer-driven. It was the passion behind the mentors and their desire to help make an impact that motivated them to dedicate their time to the cause. Thus far, the program has been able to reach 3791 college students from 343 colleges to mentor 2451 mentees.
Anne Lheem, Harvard ’21, is the co-head of outreach for CovEd and has been working to intentionally recruit disadvantaged students. Lheem’s outreach team publicized CovEd to school districts across the US as well as to community based organizations like the YMCA and Boys and Girls Club. To determine focus neighborhoods, the team analyzes data from the Stanford database from The Education Opportunity Project. The project counts the average test scores, learning rates and trends in test scores at the county level of each state.
In addition, CovEd has been helping kids in households without Wi-Fi by teaching parents to use free Spectrum Wi-Fi services. If families are unable to connect to the Spectrum Wi-Fi services, mentoring between mentors and mentees can also be conducted via phone call.
Many mentors can hold sessions in several different languages, making the program accessible to as many as possible. CovEd creates informational flyers in eight languages to assist families in their first language. The program has seen a high demand especially in Chinese, Vietnamese and Spanish. Their web development team is currently working to translate the website into different languages as well.
Initially, the matching process between mentor and mentee was manually conducted by the administration management team. Later, the web development team made a program that allows mentees to personally select a mentor based on their uploaded biography. To ensure the safety of mentors and mentees, there is a “no social media contact with your mentee” policy and a consent form from parents. Shondra, a mother of a Kindergarten student that uses CovEducation, told the Daily “We have been working with our mentor, and my child absolutely adores her! You all matched us perfectly. Thank you all for working to make a difference in the lives of children everywhere. You have definitely brought a talented soul into our lives.”
Given the uncertainty surrounding fall schooling, CovEd plans to continue its support in various forms during the summer. Many pairings continue to hold sessions and work on material. They will launch a workshop series July 6th-August 2nd and add a speaker series as well.
Image: Flyer made by CovEducation for a virtual informational session on the launch of their summer workshops.
Mentors are required to volunteer a minimum of 45 minutes a week with one mentee, but often both sides commit 1-2 hours per week to the program. Zoya Surani, Harvard ’22, said that even if a mentor “spends one hour a week with that mentee, it is very impactful.” Jimelle, parent of a 3rd grade student using CovEd, said that “It’s been such a lifesaver during this unchartered time, and I’m so grateful for the help.”
There are several mentors from Stanford that are involved as well. One mentor, William Golub ’23, said that teaching others is one of the biggest impacts that he can make and that volunteering at CovEd “was a lot more meaningful than all the other things [he] would be doing.” CovEducation gave him that opportunity. “People should sign up for it. It is a lot of fun,” Golub said.
This program did not only benefit the K-12 students, but “it was a learning experience for the college mentors as well,” Wong said. Mentors were learning new ways of teaching “to communicate knowledge to mentees, build leadership skills, or better connect with mentees.”
Here are five ways that you can help this cause:
- Sign up to be a mentor on their website! Become a role model and make an impact for a student’s life.
- If anyone wants to help out with the workshops or have thoughts on how to add to the speakers series, reach out to [email protected], and they will find you a spot to be involved in the community. They will need as much help as possible planning summer and fall, as this program will not run without their incredible volunteer support base.
- Educators can also get involved with the CovEd community by submitting various resources that mentors and mentees can use. If you know of any resources that you want to submit to help the kids, please feel free to email [email protected] and give a brief description on the resource shared.
- Are you a programmer? Help out the web development team! Reach out to [email protected].
- The outreach team needs help reaching out to more disadvantaged places where the school closures have greatly impacted them. Send [email protected] an email if you want to be part of the team!
Image: Flyers created by CovEd: get connected in their community by scanning the QR code.
A previous version of this article misspelled Evelyn Wong’s name. The Daily regrets this error.
Contact Karen Mai at kmai4 ‘at’ bostonk12.org.