First published in the June 11 print issue of the Burbank Leader.
When the coronavirus pandemic forced schools to start the 2020-21 academic year online, Burroughs High School student Lan Mai found herself wondering how to fill the time.
She’d always been active outside of classes, volunteering with the Burbank Unified School District’s “Around the Bell” child care program and tutoring other students online. But she, like many of her peers, found their favorite extracurriculars and activities canceled.
Then Mai realized the younger students she was tutoring were feeling the same disappointment. The following year, after a series of discussions with the Burbank Public Library, she launched a program that she hoped would help both younger and older students: Creative Kids. The monthly initiative, which is on hiatus for the summer, allows children in kindergarten through 5th grade to participate in after-school learning activities with teenage volunteers. Hosted at the Buena Vista library, activities include origami, “math bowling,” painting and a variety of others.
“It was hard, I’m not going to lie … but what I think was more challenging was I felt like I wasn’t doing anything,” Mai said. “I had so much more time to study, which was nice, but then it felt like almost selfish to just constantly be in my own world.”
The program has proven successful, she added. Mai expected roughly 10 to 20 children to show up the first day. Roughly 40 came. At its peak, Creative Kids attracted nearly 60 children, according to Mai, and it regularly hosts between 30 and 40 every month. Those children, she explained, can use the sessions to help discover their interests. The high school students, meanwhile, earn volunteer hours toward their school-set requirement.
But about a year after launching the program in August 2021, Mai has graduated from Burroughs and is going to the University of California, Berkeley, where she plans to pursue a career in medicine and eventually specialize in pediatrics. Her younger sister, Nicole, who attends Burroughs, will continue running the program along with a team of other high school students.
Getting the program off the ground wasn’t easy, Mai said. During the first year, she did the bulk of the planning by herself, researching ideas online and tweaking activities to avoid repeating them. She hopes the new group of volunteers will find a way to share the load more.
Despite the amount of work involved, Mai has loved seeing the children become excited about math, art and other subjects — and watching them bring their friends to the program.
“Kind of my goal for the program was [that] they could figure out what they like to do and explore that interest more,” Mai said. “Because, then, [as] they grow older, they can either create their own clubs … or they can join them in middle school, in high school, because there are so many different opportunities out there within schools.”
Lyndsey Silveira, a Burbank librarian who helps oversee programs for teens and younger children, praised Mai’s program, saying library patrons have welcomed it.
“Creative Kids is a big hit with children and families, offering educational and fun activities for school-aged kids,” she said in an email. “The younger kids get to spend time with great teen role models who love interacting with them.”
Mai said she hopes Creative Kids will continue for a long time, and that the elementary school students who are attending the program now will return as volunteers when they’re in high school.
“I hope the program will go on long enough to help make that cycle and impact of change,” she said. “I just hope that they see the impact, and they feel [like they] benefited from it and that they’ll continue to give … back to [the] community, too.”