Addressing the Pandemic's widening Gap

by Paul Jung, student leader

Children and youth from low-income communities have been disproportionately affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. Due to an increasing reliance on the internet for learning and submitting homework, academic achievement is closely tied to a student’s access to devices and a stable internet connection. As well, perhaps even more importantly, social development that is crucial to a young person’s growth has been stunted, in the form of limited extracurricular activities and lack of opportunities for face-to-face interactions. Though school systems have done a remarkable job in adapting to circumstances, the divide between equitable opportunities for students based on their socioeconomic status has become wider.

To help address this issue, I facilitate one of the Student Open Circles’ volunteer groups at Pathways to Education, where we support high school students in low-income and under-served areas. Every week, volunteers connect with high school students online through Zoom, or in-person at a community center. We help students with their homework and support them in planning for their future, including post-secondary education or applying for jobs. We play two key roles: as tutors, and as mentors.

As university student volunteers, we have not been immune to the challenges of adapting our learning to a primarily online environment. In this shared experience, we as volunteers find an easy connection with the students that we help – whether it involves sharing experiences, validating struggles, or giving tips on how to maintain productivity while being online. It gives an opportunity for volunteers to align our personal interests, such as learning to teach others or one day working in education, with the needs of the local community. And it gives us a much-needed perspective outside of the ‘university bubble.’ For example, while I have the privilege of working on a personal computer, I have helped many high school students who were writing essays or solving lengthy math problems entirely on a smartphone or tablet. It gives me an appreciation for what I am lucky to have, and emboldens my resolve to do my part to help others who are less fortunate. As a volunteer, I recognize that I am able to be a small but significant force for good in the world.