Students Pursue CE Opportunities in the Era of COVID-19


Caption: Pictured from left to right, sophomore Ellie and senior Stella El-Fishawy gear up for the annual Peninsula Bridge Fun Run. This year, participants attempted the 5k in their own neighborhoods due to COVID-19 safety measures. “Especially during this time when everyone is isolated, it’s nice to feel a part of a larger community by contributing to the same cause,” Ellie El-Fishawy said. Photo courtesy of Ellie El-Fishawy.

Erica Fenyo, Staff Writer

Menlo’s community engagement (CE) program changed the 10-credit CE requirement to a seven-credit requirement for the 2019-2020 school year due to COVID-19 restrictions. However, for the current school year, the 10-credit requirement was reinstated. To ensure the safety of all Menlo students, Menlo only accepts socially-distanced activities to count for CE credits during the remainder of the pandemic.

To aid students with their service requirements, Director of Community Engagement Chris Young posted many opportunities for students struggling to fulfill the requirement. Young acknowledged the challenges of community engagement combined with social distancing but has provided a plethora of resources students can do in the safety of their own homes. 

These opportunities are wide-ranging, from training to be a volunteer firefighter to online tutoring. Many Menlo students have opted for the latter as a safe and easy way to interact with the community.

Junior Shannon Li volunteers with Beyond the Book, a nonprofit tutoring service. She connected to the organization through its founders, some of her middle school friends, who now attend Castilleja School. Li enjoys volunteering with Beyond the Book because she can assist younger kids while safely social distancing. However, Li is concerned that she is not fostering the meaningful connections that she might have if it were in-person. “It’s hard to feel the fulfillment that you get from community engagement, in terms of in-person versus Zoom,” she said. While this is a concern for Li, she believes that online tutoring is better than nothing at all.

While online tutoring is one option, sophomore Eli Housenbold has taken a different approach. According to the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL), a government database tracking employment, unemployment rates were as high as 14.7% during the pandemic. One effect of this is that more people rely on volunteer organizations and government programs for food. One of these organizations is Life Moves, a nonprofit organization in the Bay Area dedicated to fighting homelessness. Housenbold focused on this issue over the summer and continued to work with this organization once the school year began. “During the pandemic, I mainly cooked for homeless shelters because getting food is hard right now for many people,” he said. Housenbold works with Life Moves to provide meals to the Bay Area community members.

Along with many recurring community engagement opportunities, some options only require one session. One of these options was the eighth annual Peninsula Bridge Fun Run. This year, Menlo co-hosted the virtual race, with participants logging their 5k in their own neighborhood due to COVID-19 safety measures. Despite the changes, over 1,100 people from seven partner schools, including 588 participants from Menlo, registered and participated in the Peninsula Bridge Fun Run this year. This race alone raised over $36,000 for Peninsula Bridge programs.

Although COVID-19 has negatively affected community engagement, many Menlo students and others have found ways to continue providing service to the community while abiding by county regulations.