“Even though academics are important for a child, being social is crucial to one’s mental health,” says new BSV volunteer Jessica Wong. A high school student herself, Jessica found BSV this fall and quickly raised her hand to step into a new, pandemic-responsive volunteer role: leading a “pod” at BUSD’s Emerson Elementary.
In the case of Emerson, “pods” are small groups of grade-level peers who’ve been identified by their classroom teacher for extra academic or social-emotional support. Pod leaders are BSV volunteers who meet on Zoom twice a week with their pod to check-in, play games, and help with homework.
BSV: Why did you join Berkeley Schools Volunteers in the first place?
Jessica: I joined Berkeley Schools Volunteers to assist children with their academics and mental well-being during these difficult times. I wanted to help provide relief to those who feel like they were struggling in school, and to remind kids that they are not alone.
BSV: The Emerson pods are new. What attracted you to this new Pod Leader opportunity?
Jessica: As a high school student myself, learning new concepts online can be quite a struggle. With the role of pod leader, I can help kids with homework, talk about what’s on their mind, or play a game to distract them from online school stress.
BSV: Describe to us what you and your pod do together on a normal afternoon.
Jessica: One of the first things I do is to ask them about their day or their weekend. We have fun conversations about activities we enjoy doing. Then, since my students enjoy art, we play Skribbl.io (which is like an online version of Pictionary). After that, I ask if they need any help with homework. Reading and writing are pretty common areas. Rather than just giving them the answers, I always ask them to read the prompt and help them come up with a way to answer the question.
BSV: How do you feel you are making a difference in the lives of your students this year?
Jessica: I feel like they are more engaged in conversing with their peers and with me. Being online can be a struggle, but each of us has stepped out of our comfort zone now. Talking with each other, even in these difficult times, helps them feel there are still people here, willing to listen.