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Countdown to college: What to do? A treasure trove of ideas for high school students

By Lee Shulman Bierer, The Charlotte Observer on

Published in Education News

The playing field has been leveled, and indeed all freshmen, sophomores and juniors are in the same boat. What can you do to help when you need to maintain social distancing? How can you make a contribution in this time of need? Can you have an impact locally?

Amy Morgenstern, an independent college counselor in the San Francisco area, has put together a phenomenal list of ideas for students. I suggest that every student review the list carefully, pick two or three items and pursue them vigorously. You may not be able to do all of these within your own communities.

Everyone should be doing something to contribute if they can. I imagine many colleges will be looking at how students have responded to this crisis. If all you can say is that you played video games for 2.5 months, I think that would make you a less desirable candidate than someone who made a commitment to get involved. Of course, if you are compromised or your family doesn't feel it's safe, then find something else to do.

Here's Morgenstern's list of volunteer ideas while maintaining social distance:

1. Assisting the elderly with buying groceries. Students could organize this through neighborhood associations, places of worship, service associations, honor societies at school or social media, using sites such as Nextdoor, or helping expand Invisible Hands to your area. CNN has already reported on one teen who has organized this kind of effort, and volunteers are starting to offer these services on Craigslist.

2. Providing social connection with the elderly who are sheltering in place. Contact your house of worship to see if it has a program in place to reach its senior members. Just reaching out to give them a call can truly make their day.

3. Making masks for health care workers. The Facebook group Million Mask Mayday tells you how you can make them yourself so you can donate them. This political PAC is currently accepting donations to order masks and donate them to hospitals in New York City.

4. Doing remote tutoring for younger children. Again, students could use Nextdoor, social media, community organizations or their own teachers to find elementary school teachers who can spread the word and contact parents who might find it useful to have teens help children with homework, lessons or activities, or to just read aloud remotely through an organization like Quarantutors. Listings for this service are already appearing on Craigslist, and companies such as Khan Academy offer valuable resources. Other websites have links to educational resource companies offering free access and other educational resources during this crisis.

Even students under lockdown can organize virtual fundraisers (concerts, poetry slams) or conduct online classes for younger children (ballet, karate), then donate the proceeds. Get friends who are also stuck at home to help.


While the coronavirus crisis is ongoing, our 2020 election process continues. Students can volunteer to increase voter turnout through an organization such as Rock the Vote, performing duties that can be done remotely.

Students with programming skills can do home-based coding for nonprofits such as Code for Social Good, Benetech or DonateCode. Students could also help develop apps or websites for some of the efforts listed above, such as helping coordinate neighborhood food service to the elderly. Or help the people who are helping the rest of us through a Facebook group such as Australia's Adopt a Healthcare Worker or #ViralKindness, which started in England.

Brush up on foreign language skills through Slow News in French or News in Slow Spanish. Students already know current events; these podcasts give them familiar content spoken more slowly in the languages they're studying in school so non-native speakers can follow along.

Do "remote science." CitizenScience.gov has a searchable database of projects, including "crowdsourced history" projects.

Take an online course or learn to code online through IXL, Udemy, Coursera, EdX, Harvard online courses in Social Sciences, Stanford online courses or Great Courses of the World. Or access the free resources of OpenCulture for ebooks and audiobooks or all of the TEDTalks. The Facebook group Amazing Educational Resources has assembled a pretty comprehensive list of resources that companies are now allowing everyone to use for free during this crisis.

Lee Shulman Bierer is an independent college adviser based in Charlotte, N.C. Visit her website College Admissions Strategies.

Visit The Charlotte Observer at www.charlotteobserver.com

(c)2020 The Charlotte Observer, Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.


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