The Remote Buddies Club: Tackling Isolation During COVID-19

Sophomore Sydney Widensky and her buddy, first grader Mandy, meet once a week to bond and work on Mandy's math and english skills.

Sophomore Sydney Widensky and her buddy, first grader Mandy, meet once a week to bond and work on Mandy’s math and english skills.

Elizabeth Alton and Yaretzi Guerrero

In a world of monotonous zoom calls and isolation, it’s normal to feel lonely. For younger students especially, remote learning can result in missing out on the critical social elements that an in-person environment provides, and cause them to fall behind academically. It’s these students that have been struggling in our new virtual world that inspired a group of teens at Hunter High School to partner with City Mission, a teen activism nonprofit, to start Remote Buddies Club. The Remote Buddies Club is a citywide initiative that pairs kindergarten through eighth grade students with high school students as ‘buddies.’

As part of the program, younger students and their high school counterparts meet at least once a week, and participate in activities that range from working on homework to arts and crafts. Since the group was first founded, it has expanded to multiple high schools and now encompasses over 1,000 members. 

Sophomore Simone Schwartz started the WESS chapter of the club after encountering the Remote Buddies initiative over the summer while searching for community service opportunities. 

“The goal is to make sure that no student in quarantine has to feel isolated,” Schwartz said. “I thought it was a really great opportunity especially because during the quarantine I really didn’t know what to do with my time. I was looking for some remote opportunities and once I found out about Remote Buddies, I thought what better idea then to expand it to WESS to get more volunteers.”

The club has certainly thrived at WESS as freshman, sophomores, and juniors have come together to create a space for younger students to learn and bond with each other. As remote and semi-remote learning environments continue to become a new normal around the city, the need for a program bringing students together virtually hasn’t wavered. While some middle and elementary schoolers have been in-person part-time, others, like WESS students, have been almost fully remote since last March.

Sophomore Sydney Widinskey is one of the club’s original members. She meets once a week with her buddy Mandy, a first grader, over zoom. The experience has provided her with a chance to work with kids, and do community service. 

“It’s been really fun,” Sydney said. “I normally help her do her math homework, and then we normally work on writing. She’s in first grade so she’s learning a lot of new words, so I’ve just been helping her learn new English.”

Overall, as much as the club has provided Sydney with a positive experience in terms of community service, it has impacted her on a human level as well.

“I really look forward to after school, and I really enjoy talking to Mandy,” Sydney said.

Morgan Schachter, also a sophomore, mentors a kindergartener. For her, the experience has applicable benefits that might translate to future opportunities involving tutoring and working with children. On top of that, mentoring her buddy has put what younger students are experiencing during COVID into perspective for Morgan.

“I’ve learned that it’s really hard for him. He’s 5. He doesn’t want to sit down on a zoom [call], especially after being on calls for school all day, like that’s just not ideal for the kids, so I have to find a way to make it entertaining,” Morgan said.

Her buddy’s second language is English, and from talking to his parents, Morgan has found that while Zoom school has provided him with an avenue to practice speaking, he hasn’t been as engaged in the writing and spelling aspect, something Morgan has been helping him with. She tries to find a balance between those “entertaining” and fun aspects while teaching her buddy. 

“We integrate conversations, and he always is laughing, and you just have to make sure it’s not too serious,” Morgan said. “Like I try not to get stressed out if there’s technical difficulties, you just sort of have to go with it.” 

This past year hasn’t an easy time for anyone, especially younger students. But despite that members of the Remote Buddies Club at WESS and around NYC have been doing great work to bridge the loneliness that isolation inevitably brings. With COVID cases rising again as the weather gets colder, their work is more important now than ever. For more information about how to get involved in becoming a high school mentor or an elementary/middle school mentee, you can email [email protected]!