If you have professional expertise that you are willing to share virtually with a high school student, Maribeth Tabanera has a volunteer opportunity for you.

Opinion

If you have professional expertise that you are willing to share virtually with a high school student, Maribeth Tabanera has a volunteer opportunity for you.

Tabanera is the internship co-ordinator at Maples Met School, where students in grades 9 to 12 spend every Tuesday and Thursday working at internships at companies, non-profits and organizations in the wider community.

Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, many students haven’t had a chance to set up internships the way they normally would: by contacting the organization they are interested in interning with and meeting in person for an interview.

As a result, Tabanera wants to create virtual opportunities for students to meet with people who can share their knowledge and insight into fields the students might be interested in pursuing.

"We think there’s such a great opportunity to do something new and innovative in our school — to really be at the forefront of what an internship and learning through your interests can look like in this post-COVID world," Tabanera says.

Maples Met and Seven Oaks Met are two schools in Winnipeg that follow an approach where education is individually tailored and driven by student curiosity.

The internship is a key part of this approach, and influences the work students do in the classroom.

The internship component has been valuable for Brian Guevarra, a Grade 12 student at Maples Met.

In late 2019, Guevarra and a handful of other students started an internship creating illustrations for ToyBox, an online learning tool that helps children between the ages of two and eight with their literacy and numeracy skills.

Guevarra and his fellow students are working under the mentorship of Sheri-Lynn Skwarchuk, an education professor at the University of Winnipeg who started ToyBox.

Prior to the pandemic, Skwarchuk and the students met in person. Now, they meet virtually.

"This opportunity is something I’m very grateful for," Guevarra says.

In addition to learning about digital illustration, he is also learning leadership skills.

"This internship has really made me much more confident and outgoing," he says.

Skwarchuk is impressed by the quality of work the students from Maples Met are producing and the value they are adding to the diverse team of people who are working on ToyBox.

She praises Guevarra, who recently led four workshops teaching Grade 9 students how to work on the ToyBox project.

"You would have thought he was a natural teacher with the quality of those workshops," Skwarchuk says.

Beyond ToyBox, Skwarchuk has also seen in her own family the impact an internship can have.

Her son is a Grade 10 student at Seven Oaks Met, and she and her husband were worried once the pandemic hit about what he would do for his internship.

Thankfully, a University of Winnipeg physics professor is now mentoring him virtually.

"My son is learning things at a time in his life when he wasn’t feeling very challenged," she says. "So for mentors-to-be, the sky’s the limit for what you can possibly offer to students."

Ben Carr, the principal at Maples Met, echoes that statement.

He sees virtual mentorship as a mutually beneficial arrangement where students who are eager to learn can be paired with professionals who may be looking to make an impact during the pandemic.

"People are stuck at home, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t opportunity," Carr says. "The possibilities are endless."

Anyone interested in sharing their expertise from any background is welcome to contact Tabanera (maribeth.tabanera@7oaks.org) or Carr (ben.carr@7oaks.org) by email, or call the school at 204-632-6641.

If you know a special volunteer, please contact aaron.epp@gmail.com.