By Anastasia Malenko
Jeff Garkow thrives on student interaction. His Columbine High School classroom is usually buzzing with excitement, as the teens prepare for a Unity in Action club meeting, plan a mountain bike practice, or chat about life.
This April, the buzz could only be heard when the mics in the Zoom meeting weren’t muted.
But Garkow, who teaches geography, government and Advanced Placement seminar, wasn’t going to let remote learning dampen the spirit. In 2017, not quite two decades after the mass shootings at the school on April 20 1999, Columbine decided to honor the anniversary by giving back to the community the love it received throughout the years.
On the last day of school before quarantine, students in Grakow’s classes kept asking him, “Are we still doing Day of Service?” He couldn’t imagine it not happening. The only thing left to do was redefine the idea of service in a pandemic.
What resulted was more than 1,000 students creating protective gear, delivering groceries, cooking dinners for neighbors, and carrying out other acts of kindness. It was the biggest Day of Service yet, Garkow said. Within days, letters of appreciation from beneficiaries in the community outside of Denver flooded his email.
Garkow, who attended Columbine High and has taught there for eight years, is a sponsor of Unity in Action, a social justice and diversity club at the school with almost as many members as the football team. Before the transition to remote learning, the group was planning “Coffee Jam”—an open mic night of music and laughter to raise money for a charity. In April, he said, the question was not if they were going forward with the event but rather “how are we doing Coffee Jam?”
They ended up going fully digital by soliciting videos from the Columbine community, crafting scripts and creating weekly episodes that showcased talents and encouraged donations.
Here is a link to the first digital Coffee Jam episode: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=H_cj4gfdU68&feature=youtu.be