Developing a passion projects in the pandemic
Many of my students had exciting plans for the summer -- interesting college courses, service trips, internships. Others had more lowkey plans that centered around spending time with friends and working to save money for college. Now that those plans have been disrupted by the pandemic, I know that students are looking for opportunities to use their time in a meaningful way. At the same time, experiencing a global health crisis and systemic racism and injustice is traumatic, so I want to emphasize that prioritizing mental health and social connection is more important than maintaining a consistent level of productivity.
A passion project is a project that you develop and complete based on your own intellectual curiosity and interests. This kind of project allows you to learn deeply about a topic, focus on something that gives you joy and purpose, develop specific skills, and even make a difference in your community. Below, I have put together guidelines for developing a passion project, a few ideas for inspiration, and links to stories that may spark your own project ideas.
These guidelines are based on the wonderful Youth Service Project Toolkit created by Youth Service America.
Reflect. Set a timer for fifteen minutes and answer these questions.
- Whom do you admire?
- What do you look forward to most?
- What do you wish you were better at?
- What do you wish you knew more about?
- What problems do you see in your community?
- What do you care about?
Get inspired. Look at what other people are doing in your community and beyond.
- In Burlingame, four friends started an online jewelry store called Hearts4Covid to raise money for a local hospital.
- In Oakland, community members have organized to paint murals honoring George Floyd and the Black Lives Matter movement.
- Two South Bay teenagers are aiming to raise $25,000 to fight food insecurity.
- Students in San Francisco organized protests against police brutality.
- In Laguna Beach, students formed a passion project group to sew masks, write letters to the elderly, create art, and raise money for those affected by the pandemic.
- High school students in Napa Valley and Baltimore are petitioning for better representation of black history and black stories in the curriculum.
- A San Antonio student (now Harvard-bound) created an organization to connect pro bono lawyers with low income individuals needing legal assistance.
- In New Jersey, students are working with a music teacher to 3D print face shields.
- Also in New Jersey, an Eagle Scout painted four sections of a playground, including a giant, colorful map of the US.
- Families in New Jersey are participating in a TikTok dance video challenge to raise money for teachers and families affected by the pandemic.
- In Virginia, a Girl Scout planted a pollinator garden at a local fire station.
- A college student in Kentucky is creating face masks designed for people who are deaf and hard of hearing.
- In New Hampshire, three friends planned and led a coding workshop for girls.
- Elementary school students in South Dakota baked dog treats to raise money for a local animal shelter.
- In Tennessee, a rising high school junior hand-built picnic tables for a local farmers’ market.
- A student in Georgia revitalized a garden at a local free medical clinic.
- A group of friends in Seattle started a T-shirt company to raise money for a local food bank.
- In Michigan, teenagers are hosting a new podcast called “Kids These Days,” which gives insight into life as a teenager.
- A man from Arizona started a challenge to pick up litter at beaches, parks, and schools.
- Around the country, kids are joining the “50 yard challenge,” in which they provide free lawn care to elderly and disabled neighbors.
- Around the world, Ashoka Young Changemakers are making significant, positive change in their communities.
Narrow your focus.
Review your answers to the reflection questions.
- Why do you admire the people that you do? What qualities do they have that you want to develop in yourself?
- Of the interests you identified, which stands out to you the most: art, athletics, building things, coding, comedy, dance, food, fixing things, entrepreneurship, exploring cultures, graphic design, movies, music, performing, spending time in nature, taking care of animals, teaching, reading, religion, robotics, writing. Note: You don’t have to pick something you’re already good at. If you’ve always wanted to create a short film or start a victory garden, you can.
- Of the issues you care about, which do you feel called to focus on: education, public health, climate change, poverty, medicine, racial equality, gender equality, immigration, LGBTQ+ rights, gun violence, disaster preparedness, housing, hunger, clean water and air, diversity and inclusion, political activism.
- Of the stories listed above, which make you feel like saying, “Wow, I really want to do something like that.”
- Consider how you might combine your interests with the issues that you care about.
- Review your answers to the reflection questions.
Look to your community.
- Are there people, organizations, businesses, and/or events in your community that are already doing similar work?
- How might you help an existing organization, combine forces with like-minded people, or take advantage of local resources?
- How might you learn from or improve upon existing efforts?
- Once you have chosen what you want to focus on, you can develop a plan for action. Here are the general categories for action plans, as well as examples of each:
- Service: volunteer, tutor, build something, plant a garden, clean up beaches and parks, sew masks, 3D print face shields, donate blood, foster a senior dog.
- Advocacy: petition elected officials, call representatives, march, protest, speak at public forums, host a book club focused on a topic, share information and resources on social media.
- Philanthropy: collect food, books, toys, masks, or other supplies, raise money for a cause, provide hand sanitizer and bottled water at protests, start a free little library or pantry.
- Research: dive deeply into a topic and present your work through a presentation, video, website, or science fair, Maker Faire, 4-H, or National History Day project.
- Creation: paint a mural, write a novel, draw a graphic novel, write a one act play, develop an app, design a website, start a YouTube channel, record a podcast, start an Etsy store, film a music video, create data visualizations on a topic that interests you.
- My advice is to start small. Starting a passion project can be overwhelming because you have a lot of ideas and enthusiasm at first, but you can burn out quickly.
- It’s easier to sustain a project if you have help or encouragement from family and friends. Consider how you might get these folks involved.
- Consider how much time and money you need to devote to this project. Put time on your calendar to work on the project each week. Look for funding opportunities from your school and community. Create a budget.
- For issue-based passion projects, consider working with local organizations and activists who are already working in this area.
Reflect & celebrate!
- When you complete your project, take a moment to reflect on your progress and impact. Consider what went well and what you would improve next time.
- Bring together the people who helped you to celebrate.
- Share the results of the project with your network via social media.
- Send thank you notes to people who helped you along the way.