Deven Mehta photo

Deven Mehta started Scarsdale Karate Club in his backyard.

As March wore into April and April into late spring, families everywhere wondered what the summer of 2020 would look like as it became clear the COVID-19 pandemic wasn’t going away. With many vacations canceled, summer recreation activities nixed and jobs and internships drying up, a little ingenuity is going a long way for some.

Rising Scarsdale High School junior Deven Mehta started the Scarsdale Karate Club in his backyard. The blackbelt has been training for nine years and teaching at his dojo in White Plains for the last two. With the dojo closed, he’s conducting small group instruction — no more than four students at a time — this summer.

“Much like everything else, a lot of things got canceled, so I was trying to think of what I could do,” Mehta said, adding, “I figured I have a backyard and I have equipment, so I could make a website and teach kids.”

Mehta enjoys the teaching aspect as it forces him to break things down in a way that connects with each individual student. As far as martial arts, he said, “It’s very disciplinary. Karate helps give a lot of self-confidence.”

Scarsdale Karate Club is one of the growing number of listings in the Scarsdale High School PTA Wellness Committee’s SHS Student Opportunities Database.

“I think it’s really cool because you have all these kids with these great ideas and you can connect with all the younger kids in the community,” Mehta said. “It brings people together to have fun and learn new things safely.”

Other students are stepping up, too, with things like Computer Programming Classes (Java, Python, Web Development) for ages 10-14 for seven weeks from July 7 to Aug. 28. From that program, 100 percent of the proceeds go to Feeding Westchester and Advancement Project. According to the description written by the three SHS students running the program, “Collectively, we have 200-plus hours of teaching experience and have created numerous apps, websites, and machine learning algorithms. We recognize that our communities have struggled this year due to coronavirus and racial injustices. We want to help by giving our time to teach and donating 100% of the proceeds to charities that are helping those impacted the most by these events.”

Following the PTA’s wellness panel Zoom in April and a survey about the summer, which received more than 200 responses, the PTA found the community was going in a different direction than the more typical July/August academic, preparation for college, working and interning endeavors.

“We were surprised that the community sort of focused less on academic intellectual enrichment and moreso on trying to create an activity for social connections, to try to help their teens with physical activity and volunteer and do service,” PTA member Jennifer Rossano said.

The database was born out of that notion. “Everyone is learning how to be flexible and opportunistic in the moment, so we took a little bit of an, ‘If we build it, they may come’ approach,” Rossano said. “For us it was new. Normally we plan things with the PTA that are much more structured.”

Local businesses, organizations and individuals can post what they are looking for in the database and students can apply for opportunities, and there are also virtual course offerings and the Scarsdale Adult School has even lowered the enrollment for some courses to age 16 to accommodate teens. “We thought if we could connect these groups it would be a win-win for students,” Rossano said.

With structure and continuity all but lost due to the pandemic, these are some things that will get kids back on track.

“We know that from a wellness perspective, when students are engaged and they feel what they are doing has some value or some meaning, whether it’s community service, doing for others or interning and helping with a project, that bolsters their well-being,” Rossano said.

The database is divided up into Athletic and Physical Activities, Community Service, Business/Retail Employment/Internship, Mentoring/Teaching, Enrichment Classes/Workshops and Academic Classes/Workshops.

Some other listings are Scarsdale parent Adella Lin offering to set up a high school running group; the Scarsdale Business Alliance looking for young people to help with the Dine the ’Dale initiative; The League of Women Voters of Scarsdale offering an internship; guitar lessons; Youth Passion Project classes; and beginner Chinese lessons with a Scarsdale resident.

Two Scarsdale faculty members have posted opportunities to keep students engaged. SHS social studies teacher David Sherrin is offering a Web Design Internship and Picture Book Illustration and Publishing, while chemistry teacher Kevin Viviano offers a beginner course in American Sign Language.

The database will be updated throughout the summer, so students are encouraged to check back regularly. To post an opportunity or view the database, visit https://bit.ly/shssummer or scarsdaleschools.org/page/28552.

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