May 12, 2020

Finding My Place in Project-Based Learning and Social Justice During a Pandemic

By Arabella Velleux

This post is the third in our Education at a Distance series, centering the voices of students, parents, and educators during the COVID-19 crisis. 

As a high school sophomore, distance learning turned my world upside down—for better and for worse. Right now, I’m holding the good and bad in tension daily. COVID-19 closed doors on things that are central to my wellbeing, but through distance learning, it’s also given me a glimpse at my future and what I am really passionate about.

Finding My Way through Project-Based Learning

When it comes to schools, I feel very lucky. My school, Avalon, follows a project-based model. That means that instead of taking predetermined classes to meet standards and earn graduation credit, I get to create my own projects that meet state standards and through which I earn credit.

This led me to volunteer with an organization working to change the systems and conditions that cause human rights abuses: The Advocates for Human Rights. I work as an immigration court observer as well as a front desk volunteer with the organization. From the beginning, I was enthralled with the idea of human rights. I simply wanted to entertain every aspect of it every minute of every day for the rest of eternity.

More Essential than Ever

When COVID-19 came into play, I was lucky not to lose this connection, but instead to deepen it. Distance learning has upended my normal schedule, actually giving me more time to virtually respond to emails, direct voicemails, etc. to move our work forward. And, I am one of two people still attending Fort Snelling Immigration Court hearings.

Working as a court observer is more important now than ever before. My responsibility is to collect information and bring transparency to the immigration court system—both are fundamental to protecting human rights.

Due to COVID-19, the immigration system is seeing waves of change—just like we are in our school systems. The majority of court observers are elderly and should not be out of their homes. The ability for someone my age to attend court, even under physically restrictive circumstances, is a big deal. Without accountability, we have little to no information about what’s happening in court. And I’m dedicated to shedding light on that process.

This is my distance learning and my not too distant future.

The Downsides

Distance learning has helped me home in on my passion, but it hasn’t all been easy. Over the course of the past few years, I’ve been diagnosed with mental health conditions that require me to be intentional about how I cope. My main coping mechanism, athletics, has been a hard one to substitute in the midst of a pandemic.

COVID-19-related closures and cancellations took soccer and refereeing, in particular, away. And with the unsettling onset of panic attacks and meltdowns, I’ve had to find a way to fill in that physical activity gap, so I could function day-to-day. Through a grueling process of trial and error, I’ve found a way to thrive—with a balance of schoolwork, work around the house, and soccer by myself. (And I hope it can stay that way.)

My Future

Throughout the course of the adjustment to distance learning, I’ve realized how important my volunteer work is to me. Looking for more opportunities, I decided to apply for an internship with The Advocates—one designed for specifically law students. And I’m thrilled to say that thanks to my work with The Advocates now, I was offered that internship for the summer. I am so excited!

I have gotten a grasp on what is really important to me and how I can get my feet wet now. I am so lucky to be able to do all of the things that I do, and distance learning has really made that evident.

EdAllies seeks to elevate diverse voices and foster a candid dialogue about education. While we provide our blog as a platform for EdVoices and other guest contributors, the views and opinions they express are solely their own.