High School Students Across the Country Start Projects During Quarantine
By Ama Anwar
The article centers on five high school students in the U.S. who are pursuing their hobbies to create projects that are bringing people around the world together during the pandemic.
Working from home has its perks—one can work in the comfort of their room without having to worry about morning commutes and outfits, for starters. But more free time can also lead to the dreaded phenomenon: procrastination.
These high schoolers may be spending less time interacting with their peers and more time cooped up in their homes, but rather than grow stagnant, they’re finding surprising and inspiring ways to share their passions. Here are the stories of five high school students who are creating passion-driven projects in quarantine.
Rajvi Umrigar, a current senior at Homestead High School in California, began lockdown early in March. This was the initial brainstorming stage for Inara, a nonprofit organization which pairs high school mentors with local middle school students in the San Jose area. Rajvi smiles as she elaborates on the meaning behind her project’s name—Inara is an Arabic word which means “shining light.” It’s a fitting description for the immense help that students are receiving as they navigate remote learning.
As an immigrant, Rajvi says she didn’t have mentors to guide her. The educational system was foreign to her and she didn’t know what Advanced Placement classes or standardized testing were, or what GPA meant. Along with one-on-one mentoring sessions, Inara also offers workshops and has attendees from twelve different countries. “It’s something that keeps me going, knowing that I’m helping others,” Rajvi says.
Swetha Tandri, eighteen, a senior at Coppell High School in Texas, is an aspiring computer science major. At the beginning of the quarantine, she started Melodies for Math, a YouTube channel that explains math concepts through original songs. Attending a large competitive high school, with numerous tests and comparisons among peers, Swetha often felt like a number. “Melodies for Math is how I can express myself beyond numbers,” she says.
Swetha wants to ensure that the word about Melodies for Math spreads in her local community. She has emailed test centers to tell them about their resource and researched YouTube marketing and search engine optimization. One of the project’s milestones was reaching 7,500 views this year. Next she plans on monetizing on her videos to financially compensate everyone on the team and donate to other educational nonprofits such as Khan Academy.
The project has left a profound effect on her. “This project was a catalyst to me finding out what my overall purpose is,” she says. “My purpose is to help other people find their creative energies, so they can change the world however they can.”
Michelle Cao, seventeen, attends Brooklyn Technical High School in New York City. In the summer, during a peak of COVID cases, she found it difficult to process the racial tensions within her own community and the rising Black Lives Matter movement. But as she learned more about social issues, she decided to start a club dedicated to raising cultural awareness within the Asian community where members can participate in conversations surrounding race and culture.
Her club is a small step in building a community that’s anti-racist. Michelle wants to explore topics such as the model minority myth, the Asian take on the BLM movement, and share her personal experiences to create a space where everyone feels welcome. “It’s grounded me knowing there’s a community to turn to,” Michelle says, “when there’s hardship and hatred surrounding the world.”
Alexandra Chu, sixteen, is a current sophomore at Scarsdale High School in Scranton, New York. As an aspiring biology major, she founded MedCreate, dedicated to merging medicine and creativity. Its primary focus is on creative writing and art—she’s built a community of fifty members from ten different countries.
In the past, members have put together works of art, written articles and poems, and the team is currently working on launching creative writing and art classes for kids, which they hope to implement in hospitals. “You should always have a passion project or something you love to do,” she says.
Kristen Adams, seventeen, currently attends a STEM/Engineering high school in New Jersey, but also harbors a passion for music. She started teaching piano lessons in her sophomore year, and at the end of 2019, she held a small music recital for her fifteen students at a local library. “My hard work and this dream I had was coming alive,” she says. But when the pandemic forced her to pause lessons in March 2020, she decided to take her business online, kickstarting Music Generation and recruiting several teachers through Slack from Turkey, India, and Canada. “I’m a high school student by morning and entrepreneur by afternoon. I can’t wait until college to expand the business,” Kristen smiles.
She plans to continue her business after the pandemic by finding more teachers and students to create YouTube videos, and expand her team to include graphic designers and coders to assist with their website. “My music journey wasn’t perfect; it was rocky,” she says. “What if I could share my experiences with music and learning the piano? What if I could help other kids?”
I was interested in learning about how the pandemic was affecting high school students like me. By conducting interviews and writing these profiles, I hope readers will also feel inspired by these projects and gain advice on living through quarantine. As I spoke to these girls who worked on various projects, I was struck by how similar our challenges are. Seeing them face those challenges gives me hope that we can get through this pandemic together.
Ama Anwar is a senior in high school and an incoming student at Columbia University. She has written editorials on digital media, minority affairs and climate change. Ama is the co-captain of her school’s Poetry and Creative Writing Club, which encourages students to submit to contests and exchange constructive feedback on their writing. She’s excited to have her work featured in the Girls Write Now anthology.