The coronavirus pandemic has created new challenges for University of Alabama students committed to community service, but it has by no means stopped them.
Al’s Pals, a traditionally in-person mentoring program that recruits more than 1,000 UA students each year to mentor local elementary school children, has persevered through the pandemic to continue offering students help with their homework as well as participation in enrichment and recreational activities virtually.
“Traditionally, it’s just been in the classroom,” said Trip Crowley, a graduate student pursuing business and an Al’s Pals assistant team leader. “We have basic lesson plans. We go in and talk and hang out with the kids.
“But coming into the semester, we knew we were going to have to be online. So we leveraged technology to support the kids in what they needed.”
Mary Brisbane, a marketing student and Al’s Pals assistant team leader, said using Microsoft Teams and Zoom allows the leaders to still make meaningful connections, just in a different way.
“The kids are having a great time. The mentorship is still occurring and the impact is still there, which is just really inspiring to see.”
Dr. Ira Sullivan, principal of Maxwell Elementary School, said the program has been particularly impactful this school year with so many students missing time at school due to the pandemic.
“They still connect with them, they help them with their homework, they go over different activities and they continue to bond with students,” Sullivan said.
“Our students are continuously looking forward to the conversations that they’re having with Al’s Pals even though they’re not able to come into the building. The students space out in the hallway with their MacBooks in front of them and their headphones on and are just completely engaged.”
Brisbane said the mentees see whatever Al’s Pals mentors share with them through screen shares, whether that be a PowerPoint, a PDF, an educational video or whatever a mentor writes on a digital whiteboard.
“It’s been really cool to see how creative certain people are getting,” she said. “The kids are having a great time. The mentorship is still occurring and the impact is still there, which is just really inspiring to see.”
Crowley said because of social isolation and the disconnect many people feel because of the pandemic, he thinks it’s more important than ever for UA students to get involved with the program.
“You can really get out and get involved with the community without putting yourself at risk or having to worry about COVID-19,” he said. “This has been a great way to help out the Tuscaloosa community and really have a good time doing it.”
Information on how to apply to be an Al’s Pals mentor for next school year can be found on the organization’s website.
The University of Alabama, the state’s oldest and largest public institution of higher education, is a student-centered research university that draws the best and brightest to an academic community committed to providing a premier undergraduate and graduate education. UA is dedicated to achieving excellence in scholarship, collaboration and intellectual engagement; providing public outreach and service to the state of Alabama and the nation; and nurturing a campus environment that fosters collegiality, respect and inclusivity.