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Local students start ‘Passion Project’ to teach kids

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Courtesy of Anika Sikka
Alyssa Manche, left, and Anika Sikka founded the Passion Project, which provides free classes over Zoom to students in grades K-8 – all taught by high schoolers.

When Los Altos High freshmen Alyssa Manche and Anika Sikka saw so many activities canceled during the coronavirus pandemic, they decided to create a program of their own. They founded the Passion Project, which provides free classes over Zoom to students in grades K-8 – all taught by high schoolers.

“We know that a lot of younger kids are really bored at home and don’t have much to do,” Manche said. “We thought that if we were able to create a program where we could connect these younger kids with older kids who also may not have activities to keep them occupied, we’d be able to have something for them both to do that would be fun and educational.”

After spending several days creating a website, Manche and Sikka said they sent their initiative to their school counselor, who shared it with the student body. Since then, approximately 80 high schoolers from throughout the U.S. have joined the Passion Project’s team.

Classes are approximately 30 minutes long and include arts and crafts, guitar lessons, singing, science and more. The co-founders said 150 kids participate in the classes each week.

Keeping the Passion Project running takes several hours each day, according to Manche and Sikka. Manche works as executive director of operations and management, updating the website and reviewing instructor applications, while Sikka is director of communications and outreach. In addition to managing the organization, they are instructors as well.

“I love working with kids – education is one of my passions,” Sikka said. “Especially with some of the story-time classes, reading to kids and seeing the expressions on their faces, it’s just really fun and rewarding for me.”

High schoolers interested in participating should apply on the Passion Project website, where they’ll be asked to fill out a form to describe their qualifications, which class they’d like to teach and why they are interested.

“We look for somebody who’s got a really compelling story about why they want to join and teach,” Manche said.

Summer camp

After a successful one-month pilot program, the Passion Project expanded with a four-day summer camp that began June 15. So far, three sessions have been announced, and like the individual classes, the camp is free. Campers are divided into three age groups and take five classes each day, with 30-minute breaks in between.

“We noticed that a lot of our younger siblings’ summer camps and our summer programs were canceled,” Sikka said. “We knew that would lead to more boredom and lack of motivation in the summer, so we decided to put together our own camp.”

Even after the coronavirus pandemic, Manche and Sikka hope to continue the Passion Project as a club at their school or with in-person classes. In the meantime, the co-founders are thrilled at the success of their initiative.

“I really like seeing the kids get excited when we do a new project,” Manche said. “It makes me feel happy that I can make this time where they can’t always just go outside and play with their friends a little easier for them.”

To enroll in classes and to apply to become an instructor, visit passion-project.org.

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