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Interview with Co-Founders of the Covid NineTEEN Project, Sarah Shapiro & Skye Loventhal!


Sarah Shapiro (pictured first photo on left) is an 11th grade student in the International Baccalaureate Diploma Programme at Granada Hills Charter High School. She is the co-founder of The Covid NineTEEN Project and an avid advocate for change in her community. As a nationally ranked Speech and Debate competitor, in addition to being the founding president of her school’s Girl Up chapter, she aims to enact positive social change worldwide through using her voice to bring pertinent issues to the attention of the public.


Skye Loventhal (pictured second photo on left) is one of the co-founders of the Covid NineTEEN Project. She is currently a high school junior who is part of the AP Capstone program. She is also the founding Vice President of her school's Girl Up chapter, a softball coach for an eight and under team, and a kindergarten teacher assistant. She is passionate about advocacy and so glad to be able to make a difference during this time.




Interview by Daania Sharifi


So for our first question, could both of you please start by introducing yourself?

Sarah: Hi, I’m Sarah Shapiro and I’m an 11th grade student at Granada Hills Charter. I am an advocate for change in my community and am an active member on my school’s speech team, debate team, science fair club, and acapella. I am a student in the International Baccalaureate Diploma Programme. I also am the founding president of my school’s Girl Up Chapter.

Skye: Hi, I'm Skye! I am currently a junior in high school, and I am one of the co-founders of this project. I currently work in a kindergarten classroom, coach a softball team, and am vice president of our Girl Up chapter. I'm in the AP Capstone Program. I also participate in our tutoring program on campus as a math tutor for underclassmen.

Talk to us about starting the CovidNineTeen Project. What is it? How did you come up with the idea?

The Covid NineTEEN Project is a teen-led initiative that provides free activities and one-on-one tutoring session for students in 1st-5th grade. We are both daughters of educators, so we saw firsthand how students were struggling to adapt to distance learning. Since extracurriculars were canceled and students no longer have one-on-one support for academics, we wanted to provide programming for them to be connected to mentors who can guide them during these unprecedented times. We currently have live sessions from 3-6 PM PST on weekdays and 9-3 PST on weekends. We plan to expand to a full day schedule for the summer.

I agree. It is definitely difficult to learn at distance. How can people get involved in your initiative?

We have a volunteer application for high school and college teens who want to apply to become a teen mentor. After going through the comprehensive application and orientation process, they are able to lead activities and tutor elementary school students. We will be opening a Google form application at the end of this week (likely Thursday or Friday) that will be available on our website. Students also sign up through Google forms that are available on our website.

Love that! I’m sure many teens would love to help this initiative :) You both attend the same school & created the Girl Up chapter there. Tell us about that! What is Girl Up? What made you want to create a local chapter?

We have gone to school together since we were 2 years old! Girl Up is a United Nations organization that promotes equality and helping women globally. The organization participates in a series of advocacy challenges, projects, and initiatives to help improve women's lives all over the globe. Skye and I have always been avid advocates for gender equality, and when we found out our school did not have a club for it, we knew we needed to found a chapter of this wonderful organization.

We unfortunately did not get to finish the year with our club due to school closures, however a lot of the amazing activities we participated in are featured on our club's account @ghcgirlup !!

That’s so inspiring! So how has creating this intiative taught you new skills? What did you wish you knew before creating the Covid NineTEEN Project?

Skye: We have both definitely learned a lot about communication. Between communicating with parents, younger students, and volunteers we have had to develop our communication skills in so many ways.

Sarah: This initiative has required immense preparation and coordination among the board members, so it has taught me most that is absolutely imperative to reach out to others who are just as passionate about these efforts as we are to delegate tasks and expand our outreach. Before starting this project, I wish I knew how much of an impact we would make! We were definitely underestimated by those around us and we were told that we were being too ambitious in our plans; however, we pulled off even more than we could have ever imagined! I wish we would have started off with more confidence right off the bat, but hopefully those who see our hard work will feel inspired and capable of achieving their initiatives as well, regardless of what anyone says.

Skye: Everything we've done for this project has been a learning experience because we are working with so many amazing people who have so many ideas to offer.

Definitely! Communication skills and teamwork are always key in any initiative. What’s your favorite part about the Covid NineTEEN Project?

Skye: Working with the students has definitely been the most rewarding. We have students who have returned daily and always have big smiles on their faces the second they join the session. It has been so incredible to be able to build connections with these students in just the past week. Seeing the students also reminds us that we truly are making an impact in their lives, and it is an incredible feeling.

Sarah: My favorite part about the Covid NineTEEN Project is how the volunteers have truly made it into a community. During this time of isolation, many individuals have felt lonely and disconnected; however, our volunteers have truly built an amazing community where the connections between the teen mentors are absolutely wonderful.

Skye: We have met so many new people because we have volunteers that we haven't actually met in person and we have already become amazing friends. Like Sarah said, our volunteers have truly built a supportive and uplifting community that is incredible to be a part of.

Aww, that’s true! Who are each of your inspirations and what is inspiring about them?

Skye: My friends and family have of course always inspired me with everything they've done in their lives. Sarah has always taken initiative with projects like these and has always been such an inspiration in my life. Additionally, as weird as this may sound, Taylor Swift has truly been an inspiration in my life. I've always loved her music, but in the past year or so she had truly inspired me with the way she ended her political silence and spoke out for equality without worrying about the backlash she would likely receive. I have not always been someone who is outspoken, but I am definitely becoming more and more willing to speak my mind and advocate for change, so seeing someone who I love do the same has been so inspiring.

Sarah: My Bubbe (grandma in Yiddish) is definitely my inspiration. She is the most hardworking and kind-hearted person I’ve ever met. She has always been my greatest supporter; she was the person who encouraged me when I started my first charitable organization at age 8 and continues to cheer me on to this day in my initiatives such as the Covid NineTEEN Project. She attended a junior college and worked in the medical sales industry when it was frowned upon for women to pursue further schooling and jobs in male-dominated fields. Her perseverance and dedication to achieving her goals have always inspired me to keep working until I reach my fullest potential.

What advice do you have for teens looking to start their own initiative?

Sarah: My biggest piece of advice is to not be afraid to collaborate and delegate. While you will definitely feel attached to it, it is important to learn to let go and allow others to offer their opinion and contribute. Ultimately, allowing others to partake in the efforts leads it to make an even bigger difference on the world.

Skye: Don't be afraid to reach out to people. I think at first it was really daunting to reach out to people with this idea that wasn't fully developed, but reaching out to people can help so much in further developing your idea and turning it into something truly incredible. Additionally, it is important to know your worth. We both were unsure of how much success we would really have at the beginning and I think that held us back a little bit at first. Once we started to promote our idea and reach out to people, we realized we were capable of so much more than we expected.

What life advice do you have for teens in general?

Skye: Don't be afraid to push boundaries. Find what you are passionate about and explore that to its fullest potential. I think that a lot of times teens' opinions are invalidated, but it is so important to continue to share your voice on topics that are important to you and find a way to enact positive change in a way that reflects who you are

Sarah: Pursue your passions. Don’t join activities or clubs because it will “look good on college applications.” If you do that, you’ll look back at your teenage years and realize that none of those experiences were genuinely rewarding. Resist the culture that is being normalized of only joining things for the sake of putting them on a resume; it is essential to remember that your life is what you make of it and that you should be focusing on the things you love.


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