Community Service in the Era of COVID-19

Claire Pak

Recent stay-at-home orders have not prevented Lexington High School students from finding new and socially-distanced ways to give back to the community in a time when it is easy to feel powerless.
Amid the coronavirus outbreak, many frontline workers have displayed signs of bruising and sore marks on their faces from wearing masks for extended periods of time. In response, the LexProtect3D club began printing mask straps to help mitigate these discomforts.
“We have been using 3D printers to print mask straps that go behind the head for the elastics to hook onto, which relieves pressure on the ears and can help adjust the fit for masks,” Sara Mei, one of the founding members of LexProtect3D, said.
While the initial distribution of mask straps prioritized hospitals and healthcare facilities, the club has transitioned towards providing mask straps for essential businesses as well. So far, LexProtect3D has printed nearly 10,000 mask straps for 70 different hospitals, nursing homes, and essential businesses.
“It’s crucial that as long as the pandemic lasts, we are here and ready to provide these mask straps and anything else that we can do in order to help make the lives and jobs of our essential and healthcare workers better,” Mei said.
While LexProtect3D has focused on meeting the needs of frontline workers, the Lexington High School Girls Support Social Distancing (LHSGSSD) club and the Helping Everyone Learn More (HELM) platform have been utilizing online softwares such as Zoom to host enrichment activities for younger children.
For Laasya Chiduruppa, a junior, reading about the struggles that parents faced between work and keeping younger children entertained throughout the day inspired the creation of the LHSGSSD. This club offers online activities for children between the ages of five to ten.
“We do exercise, dance, art, science, math, cooking, and then we do some games. The greatest thing about it is they’re learning new things. But, we’re also providing them this way of interacting with other children which is especially hard for elementary students because they don’t exactly have phones,” Chiduruppa said.
The LHSGSSD began hosting near-daily Zoom meetings the week after Lexington school closures in March.
“At that time there was really no direction from the schools because of how suddenly the pandemic hit and so really I think [the Zoom meetings] gave a sense of structure…to people’s lives,” Chiduruppa said.
For brothers Sidharth and Vikram Anantha, Zoom meetings opened up the opportunity to create a more academically focused approach to helping students. Their organization, HELM Learning, is a peer-to-peer platform geared towards hosting free educational classes for students all around the globe.
“We really offer any type of class. It was Python programming in the beginning. Then we spread out to more STEM-based classes, and now it’s really anything such as journalism, calligraphy, neuroscience, microbiology, coding, debate, and public speaking,” Vikram, a freshman, said.
The range of courses offered by HELM Learning can be attributed to the diverse interests of the high school and middle school students who teach the classes. HELM hopes to empower these student instructors by providing a platform to share their knowledge and passions.
“When teachers sign up we don’t make them teach a class, we just have to make sure it’s not a class that’s already taught…It’s really about what they want to teach and what they are passionate about,” Vikram said.
Sidharth and Vikram plan to continue providing online classes into the indefinite future, recognizing that the platform’s mission has extended beyond providing educational enrichment during the pandemic.
“The important thing about HELM is that it’s not just a COVID solution, but it’s a solution to a greater problem that was born out of COVID. If you look at all of the classes, most aren’t classes you learn at school anyways. These are mostly enrichment classes that people would have to learn on their own outside of school,” Sidharth said.
While the LexProtect3D, LHSGSSD, and HELM Learning are all organizations created during the COVID-19 pandemic, existing student organizations have responded to the pandemic as well. Members of the Lexington High School robotics teams 2 Bits and a Byte and Parity Bits modified their annual Lex-Hackathon to a COVID-themed event. This year, the goal of the Lex-Hackathon was to find solutions for COVID-created problems.
“One of the projects submitted was an app that would show local businesses and eateries so that people can know where to go to support these businesses. Another was a box to decontaminate your items that were coming in from outside. There were all sorts of solutions. Some were legitimate products like machines or boxes while [others were] softwares or diagrams or blueprints of how to construct something,” Daniel Ong, a senior and member of the 2 Bits and a Byte robotics team, said.
Though the students leading various initiatives are unable to collaborate in person, the drive to find solutions for common problems has created a sense of unity. From mask-making to educational services, student leaders have been stepping up to support the Lexington community during this difficult time.