Community Service in a Pandemic

Poly students have found a number of wonderful opportunities for virtual community service during the COVID-19 pandemic, supporting a variety of organizations as well as each other, with true Poly spirit.

“We’ve been making masks for a few weeks now and made close to a thousand masks,” said Lola Stephens ‘21. “We’re making masks primarily for workers at the DOE NYC REC centers, which are locations around the city where children of first responders and essential personnel can be during the day and receive hot meals, access to technology, and emotional support. Once we’ve made masks for everyone working there, we are going to start making them for hospitals around the city that are requesting cloth masks. Our plan for distributing them is just to bring them to the facilities where they need them.” 

In Middle School, students were given three options for community service: sending letters to nurses, doctors, healthcare workers, and first responders in Brooklyn; making cards for family members or isolated elders at local nursing homes and assisted living centers in the area; or peer-to-peer conversations in which students engaged with fellow Poly peers via video to discuss how they are dealing with life in the age of COVID-19.

“My mom, sister, and I made over 140 cookies for a local food pantry in upstate New York,” said Laila Baluk ’24. “It was a lot of fun and I felt really good about where they were going.”  Owen Samra ’24 and his dad signed up to volunteer with Invisible Hands, which delivers food to at-risk communities.

Bradley Schessel ’22 and the Student Service Board developed an initiative for Upper School students to provide virtual babysitting during the day for faculty with young children ages 5-10. The student volunteers planned to work with division heads, Director of Community Service Elijah Sivin, Dean of Student Life Alex Davis, and Lower School counterparts to develop developmentally appropriate activities. 

Matt Dilley teaches the Physics Innovations and Engineering (PIE) elective. Before Virtual Poly, the class was working on a hands-on team design challenge that did not convey to Virtual Poly. Most of the class were seniors whose classes ended on May 1.

“In the short time I had with them,” Dilley said, “I asked them to develop a way to perform remote service that involves the Poly community. They researched various opportunities and settled on Operation Gratitude, which provides care packages and letters to active military and first responders, who are now on the front line of the pandemic. I also teach the IfEL course with Motoko, Elijah, and Brian and thought there was an opportunity to merge the two classes. My PIE students wrote letters for Operation Gratitude and then designed a lesson that involved them leading the ninth grade IfEL students through the letter-writing process. I was pleasantly surprised that many students took the opportunity to recognize and thank these people for the service they do for our country outside of this pandemic. I think that being asked to write a letter gave them some time to consider the efforts of people who we normally take for granted.”