While some teens are at home making Tik-Toks on the latest trends or spending countless hours on a gaming system, junior Sophia Sorid at Lenape High School spent some free time volunteering to teach for a nonprofit.
“I was working with another nonprofit, and the nonprofit organization was looking for a smaller local organization to partner with,” she said. “One of the organizations they partnered with was Project Engage in Virginia, and when I looked it up, I saw that there was one in New Jersey.”
Sorid was part of the Foreign Policy Youth Collaborative (FPYC) nonprofit, which allows teens to come together and discuss foreign policy. Once she researched Project Engage, a student run nonprofit where high-school students teach online classes on a chosen topic, Sorid knew there was something special about it.
Project Engage began in Richmond, Virginia, and made its way to New Jersey after Kiko Yoshihira, a West Windsor Plainsboro sophomore, started Project NJ after the pandemic hit and students were without extracurricular activities.
“We only started the organization in August, but we actually started having classes around September, so our first session was from September to October,” Yoshihira explained.
The mission behind Project NJ is to offer students free and unique online courses taught by high-school students. The wide range of classes includes humanities, photography, creative writing, and STEM-related classes like astronomy and science exploration.
Some classes such as chess; current events; and Sorid’s area of interest, neuroscience, are not taught in schools.
“One of the reasons that I initially joined is that I’m interested in learning more about neuroscience,” she noted. “I thought teaching that as a course and allowing younger kids to learn about it would help me learn about it even more.”
An instructor for the neuroscience class, Sordid meets a group of K-8 students for a one-hour virtual session once a week. She and 22 other instructors create lesson plans before their sessions that involve a PowerPoint presentation, class participation, and interactive activities.
“I had a big biology textbook from studying the LSAT subject test and I started from there,” Sorid said. “Which was kind of dense, but I figured out which parts of neuroscience I wanted to teach because it’s a very broad subject.”
Project NJ collects donations through its website and all proceeds go to the New Jersey Pandemic Relief Fund. The former also partners with Snuggles For Children, a nonprofit for foster children in need.
As the program moves forward, Sorid hopes to make people more aware of it in South Jersey.
“I think that a lot of elementary- and middle-school students would really enjoy this, and I know that a lot of the students in my classes are from the same area and no one does this from around here,” she explained. “I think that there are a lot of kids in this area who would be interested and would benefit from this.”
Any high-school student in New Jersey can apply as an instructor.
“There’s really no limit as to how many classes one wants to take; it gives people the opportunity to connect,” Yoshihira said.
Project NJ will continue online sessions until June 5. To get involved or register for classes, visit the website at https://www.projectengagenj.org/