Students Emerge as Leaders During COVID-19 Through Service Learning

As learning has gone virtual to curb the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, educators and parents have been left with a pressing concern: how will this experience impact social and emotional development?

“The pandemic is having profound effects on children’s mental well-being, their social development, their safety, their privacy, their economic security and beyond,” a policy brief by the United Nations stated. “While children are not the face of this pandemic, its broader impacts on children risk being catastrophic and amongst the most lasting consequences for societies as a whole.”

While maintaining progress in core subject areas is imperative, a curriculum that develops leadership skills is equally essential to ensure that emotional development continues virtually.

An independent research study commissioned by Lead4Change found that students who completed the Lead4Change Student Leadership Program experienced tangible emotional growth. The program involves lessons in leadership, as well as creating and implementing team projects to meet a need in the community. Those that completed the program experienced significant changes in leadership skills (60 percent of students improved), respect for others (54 percent) and ambition and innovation (53 percent). Programs of this nature can be completed virtually by adapting projects to address current concerns, and they can not only succeed without physical contact, but offer unique challenges that help students to grow as leaders.

Students at Mohave High School in Bullhead City, Ariz. reconsidered their project when quarantine began, creating a read-aloud library of developmentally appropriate books for preschoolers. With high schoolers reading preschoolers books and teaching them literacy and social development skills, this resource allowed an early childhood program to continue virtually.

“The students developed a ‘can do attitude’ while working collaboratively to adapt to their new normal,” said teacher, Michele Leyendecker. “With so much uncertainty, this project truly gave them purpose.” The “T-Bird Readers” team was awarded Lead4Change’s grand prize, a $10,000 grant for a nonprofit of their choice.

In Garner, N.C., students participated in service learning and emerged as community leaders by directly addressing the local impact of the pandemic. The “Corona Relief Crew” collaborated with volunteers and vendors to create and distribute kits with essential food and supplies for the homeless and those in nursing homes who have been severely impacted by the pandemic.

“Being an adult leader for the Corona Relief Crew has caused a paradigm shift in how I view youth strength and their ability to lead,” educator Dr. Cleopatra Lacewell shared. “This experience has taught me when students have well-organized plans, identified goals and established team structures, they can then perform as stellar leaders with minimum support.”

The Corona Relief Crew was also honored with Lead4Change’s $10,000 grand prize for their initiative. For more information about the Lead4Change Student Leadership Program, visit

While distance learning’s impact on students’ education has been unprecedented, this disruption also has presented a unique opportunity for students to overcome obstacles and grow as leaders. With a service-learning project, students can gain a sense of purpose, lead real change in their local community and maintain a sense of unity that is integral during challenging times. (StatePoint)