Stuck at home, teens start their own virtual summer camps
Summer camp is the trademark of a typical summer. An away-from-home activity to experience independence, learn new skills, and offer kids somewhere to go to escape their parents’ workday — a win-win for all.
COVID-19 has ended all of that, forcing most in-person camps to shut down. However, the absence of organized extracurriculars and summer activities has inspired many high schoolers to start their own classes and camps, driven by a desire to share their common interests with the community.
Some high schoolers began these classes before COVID-19, but adapted their formats to online learning once the pandemic hit.
Elaine Gong, 16, from Issaquah High School and a passionate dancer, is teaching online dance classes for members of the Wahaha Youth Group. She taught in-person classes before COVID-19 started spreading, but continues to teach virtually through the pandemic. Gong begins each class with stretches, then proceeds to technique combos she has choreographed. Although she prefers in-person classes, she said that students have been confident when dancing by themselves in a virtual setting. Gong enjoys spreading this art form and enabling others to put their own interpretations and emotions into what they do.
“Dance is an emotional escape outlet and keeps me optimistic through rough times,” Gong said.
Felix Zhao, 15, from Skyline High School began teaching karate in the midst of the pandemic. Zhao has been practicing karate for nearly eight years. Before COVID-19 struck, he was looking to expand his interest through volunteer work. As part of the Wahaha Youth Group, he saw what other students had been doing, and decided to try running his own karate classes.
“It’s actually very enjoyable now,” Zhao said. “It’s very fun to watch kids, hearing them say ‘wow, karate’s really fun, makes me very happy.’ Karate’s for anybody. Anyone can do it if you want to do it. It’s good self-defense, good physical fitness.”
Fifteen-year-old Vineel Bhat of Eastlake High School teaches Invessential, a 10-week course on investing, for teens from age 13 to 18. Bhat learned how to invest when he was 8 and purchased his first share of stock at 11. Driven by passion, he decided to teach investing classes at a local library last summer. He had already planned to transition to online classes this summer, so he avoided making extra modifications for social distancing.
“There are so many Americans who don’t know investing,” Bhat said. “I think this is an important topic in which all teenagers should be aware of, especially before they go get their first job and start making an income.”
All profits from his course go to the World Wildlife Fund. Registration for Invessential this summer is closed. However, new video courses will be added soon on his website. Bhat also runs an Instagram account, where he posts daily market news and investing tips.
Brian Yao, 17, goes to Tesla STEM High School and is a long-time robotics competitor. In the spring of 2019, he organized and taught beginner robotics classes to elementary and middle school students under the banner Entropy Robotics. This year Yao changed his curriculum to teach Computer-aided Design, or CAD, offering the same fundamentals as robotics with a computer design element. Yao’s online classes are free to attend for all elementary and middle school students. Registration is open through his website.
“Teaching is something I really enjoy,” Yao said. “It’s actually something I look forward to every week — to share my knowledge that I’ve accumulated through all these years of robotics with some younger faces.”
Yao is not alone in offering robotics classes to the community during COVID-19. 322A is a second-year VEX Robotics Competition (VRC) team based in Sammamish. The team is led by Eastlake sophomores Dhruv Bansal and Atharva Limaye, Redmond High School sophomore Elizabeth Chen, and STEM sophomores Ian Lam and Anjali Sreenivas. In early July, the five student leaders taught a two-week VEX IQ camp for elementary and middle school students with an interest in beginner robotics. Because they were unable to have their students build and program with physical parts due to social distancing, the club used online software to develop virtual robots instead.
“Most of them came in with little or no knowledge of how to build or how to code, but at the final class they all managed to create something really cool as their final project,” Chen, 15, said. “It was pretty cool to see how they actually learned throughout the two weeks.”
“They were able to apply the knowledge that we taught them, so it was really nice to see that,” Sreenivas, 15, added.
Skyline student Shridhar Gaur, 17, realized a need for incoming sixth-graders who plan on skipping a level to seventh-grade math in the fall. He decided to teach a two-week foundations class with curriculum that would have been taught in sixth grade math. His course is based off the Common Core standards and includes presentations and guided practices. Registration on his website is currently open for his free camp.
“I think, given our current situation, this is one of the few ways I can interact with our community,” Gaur said. “For me, personally, I realized that if I had this, it would have benefited me a lot.”
Finally in May, two Eastlake students, Medhya Goel, 16, and Aryan Mahindra, 17, began an organization called COVID Classroom. Their program offers tutoring and resources to middle and high school students. This summer, they expanded to a programming camp where they teach Scratch and Java languages. Their goal is to help bridge the digital divide and close the inequity of access to digital literacy resources. Currently, profits from their organization go to Direct Relief, a charity that provides medical personnel with critical resources.
Instead of being isolated and bored at home, many of these teens decided to take action and give back to their community. The camps that they offer not only benefit students, but also parents who need activities to keep their children busy.
“We’re doing this because we want to give back,” Goel said. “We recognize that not everyone has the same opportunities, and in this really strange time we think that it’s more important than ever to keep on learning.”
Registration is still open for the following camps: