On March 15, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio announced the city’s public schools would close in response to the evolving COVID-19 pandemic. Overnight, more than 1,700 schools and over one million students and their families shifted to remote-learning curriculums. Since then, all NYC public schools have closed for the remainder of the academic year. For some families, the shift has been manageable, but for many others, it’s impractical. Without the technology needed for remote-learning, thousands of students remain isolated from their teachers and classmates. Recent reporting states that roughly 16% of NYC students lack daily communication with their schools. The Department of Education has committed to providing internet-connected tablets to families in need, a number that by late-April surpassed more than 70,000 students.

To support families in these difficult times, many local non-profit organizations have refocused their efforts to track students’ needs and provide the necessary resources. Read Ahead, one of Proskauer’s longtime non-profit partners, is one such organization. For nearly 30 years, Read Ahead (formerly Everyone Wins! New York) has connected adult reading mentors with children in public elementary schools once per week during their lunch hours. As a member of their Junior Board, I am pleased to share a few of their updates.

For the remainder of the school year, Read Ahead has shifted to an e-mentoring model through which students and mentors can stay connected by exchanging video messages sent through Read Ahead. So far, over 1,000 personalized messages have been exchanged. Read Ahead is also planning virtual book drives through which supporters can sponsor any number of books to send to students at home. Additionally, volunteers can participate in their new Teacher Appreciation Project by creating personalized messages of appreciation for teachers and school staff to brighten the days of the educators at Read Ahead’s partner schools. To uplift students, Read Ahead is building a video library of read-alouds, sing-alongs, and other fun and informative videos. The organization continues working with donors to collect tablets, gift cards and hygienic supplies for students in low income and temporary housing.

As a member of the junior board, I have witnessed first-hand the positive impact Read Ahead’s mentoring has on the students it supports. Recently, Grant Darwin, an associate in Proskauer’s corporate department, shared similar insights from his experience in the program as a new mentor. While we all adjust to this period of uncertainty, it is important to keep in mind those who are struggling most. For those looking for more resources for their own children at home, I invite you to explore Read Ahead’s new at-home resource guide, which contains video read-alouds, links to free online books, in-home exercises, science and art activities and more.

Max DeLott (back row, right) with members of Read Ahead’s junior board and student mentees.