With all the news of cyberbullying, videos on YouTube of middle and high school student brawling and on YouTube and “sexting”, digital technology has become, in many ways, a dangerous frontier.
However, one teenager is using the the Internet and webcameras in a positive way – trying to change the world one person at a time.
Chelsea Dale, a high school junior at the Fieldston School in the Bronx, wanted to create a one on one mentoring program pairing socially and academically accomplished high school students with at risk elementary school children. But the time and expense involved with traveling between the two schools made this idea impossible.
“It dawned on me that if we used video cameras, Skype and the Internet, we could see and speak with children anytime we wanted to and traveling between schools would be completely eliminated.”
So she founded On Giants Shoulders.
After a surprisingly long and difficult search – “I was amazed at how many schools were unwilling to get involved even though I was willing to do most of the work,” Dale says – she finally found a school in the Bronx, CS 211, that was interested. “My school has a nice technology setup, but CS211 only had a few computers and no room in their budget for webcams.” She began planning a fund raiser, but was able to speed up the process by convincing her school to provide funding. She recruited fellow students to participate in the program and paired each of them with a child.
“I matched up my schoolmates and the 6th graders by interests and facility with the English language. For example, one girl loved to dance but had some difficulty with speaking English. I matched her with one of my classmates who spoke Spanish fluently and was a dancer.”
It seems to be working. Richard Feldman, librarian at CS 211 sees a “strengthening of the students’ social and academic skills. Chelsea Dale, really made this happen. It was her vision and persistence that kept us all engaged.”
“At first the children were intimidated because many had never used the internet or a web camera. But now they are comfortable with it. So it turns out that besides the mentoring, the elementary school students are learning how to use digital technology.”
Working with children in need is one of Chelsea’s passions. She volunteers weekly at the Henry Ittleson Center for Child Research & Day Treatment Center in the Bronx, a live in treatment facility for 32 severely emotionally disturbed children, ages 5 to 13, who have been removed from their homes by the New York court system.
“Because of neglect and worse, these kids are extremely resistant to trusting anyone. They don’t want to be let down again. The idea is to gradually develop trusting friendships with them. We are something that is consistent in their difficult lives. We also try to serve as role models.”
She is also a member of her school’s Community Service Advisory Board, a 3 year selective program which accepts only 17 out of approximately 130 students per grade which develops leadership and fundraising skills at an elite level and culminates in an in depth community service project. And as a member of the Youth Planning Committee of the Children for Children/Hands On Network she helps to evaluate proposals and award grants provided by Usher’s Powered by Service Foundation which brings teens from the tri-state area together to plan large events and service projects. Chelsea is also on the varsity basketball and tennis teams at her school.