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QuaranTEENS program helps students connect during isolation

Games, exercise and mental health focus of online community launched by Menlo Park company

Games of Pictionary, pushups and chatting with new friends fill 13-year-old Aaron Wolfe-Bloom’s afternoons these days.

But Aaron isn’t in the same room as these other teens – it’s all happening over video conferences from his San Jose home.

Aaron is one of 94 teens participating in a new program from the Menlo Park-based business America Offline, created in response to the isolation that many teens are facing during the Bay Area’s shelter-in-place order.

QuaranTEENS, along with a version for younger kids (called QuaranTWEENS), sessions are professionally moderated by coaches and allow young people ages 9 to 14 to connect with others over daily, one-hour video hangouts with check-ins on their emotional states, group games and physical exercises such as jumping jacks, planks and squats.

Coaches also offer tips on mindfulness, nutrition and time management to the students who have signed up so far.

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America Offline was founded to help teens build more meaningful in-person connections and experiences offline through camps and other activities. But right now, with teens in the area facing little in-person interactions with their peers, the company currently is focusing its efforts on these video calls.

Mazon Zwerin, a fourth grader at Upper Laurel School in Menlo Park, misses his friends, team sports and simply being able to ask his teachers questions about schoolwork in-person, but said the QuaranTWEENS group gives him a chance to “joke around” with other kids, play games and motivate one another.

“We say things like: ‘Come on let's go, 10 more!’ We’re encouraging each other like we would when we were together.”

Mazon’s father, David Zwerin, said QuaranTWEENS is a good outlet to help his son stay active.

“He plays baseball, basketball and soccer and this gives him a chance to play with his friends in a different way – in a format that they’ve never had before and it’s structured,” Zwerin said. “We’re so close, yet so far away from each other and now he (Mazon) still has a common connection with his peers.”

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Wolfe-Bloom, a seventh grader who attends Castillero Middle School in San Jose, said QuaranTEENS provides him some entertainment during a time in which he and many of his friends are “really bored.”

“You’re really getting to have conversations and actually communicating,” he explained. “It is on a screen, but it doesn't feel like it’s on a screen. … It really just gives me something to look forward to. We’re not just zombies staring at our phones day after day.”

Menlo Park native David Klein, America Offline’s founder and a trained life coach, has spent the last decade coaching young athletes in baseball through the Menlo Legends program and camp, and during several years as a baseball coach at Menlo-Atherton High School. He leads the program's boys' groups, while Kim D’Arcy, a school counselor and wellness coach, leads the girls groups.

”With teens trapped indoors during the COVID-19 lockdown, we wanted to provide an urgently needed way to connect face-to-face,” he said in a prepared statement. “During this time, kids are turning to social media and video games even more than usual, right at a time when they may be feeling a bit anxious and uncertain. We wanted to provide a healthy form of person to person connection and community.”

Diana Hawkins Manuelian, an America Offline board member who holds a doctorate in education, said the online group meetings provide a way to connect that is fundamentally different from the type of communication found in group video games and on social media.

“Having professional coaches lead the groups, allows America Offline to create healthy environments to connect and to identify those teens who may be at risk during these anxious times,” she said in a prepared statement. “We are social beings and we are all feeling very isolated and lonely right now.”

The program is currently being offered to students in the Bay Area, but America Offline plans to expand the service to other communities across the country.

Pricing is tiered based on need and there are scholarships available for low-income families and those hit hardest by the virus.

Sign up for QuaranTEENS sessions through Eventbrite.

Find comprehensive coverage on the Midpeninsula's response to the new coronavirus by the Almanac, Mountain View Voice and Palo Alto Online here.

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QuaranTEENS program helps students connect during isolation

Games, exercise and mental health focus of online community launched by Menlo Park company

by / Almanac

Uploaded: Mon, Apr 13, 2020, 10:58 am

Games of Pictionary, pushups and chatting with new friends fill 13-year-old Aaron Wolfe-Bloom’s afternoons these days.

But Aaron isn’t in the same room as these other teens – it’s all happening over video conferences from his San Jose home.

Aaron is one of 94 teens participating in a new program from the Menlo Park-based business America Offline, created in response to the isolation that many teens are facing during the Bay Area’s shelter-in-place order.

QuaranTEENS, along with a version for younger kids (called QuaranTWEENS), sessions are professionally moderated by coaches and allow young people ages 9 to 14 to connect with others over daily, one-hour video hangouts with check-ins on their emotional states, group games and physical exercises such as jumping jacks, planks and squats.

Coaches also offer tips on mindfulness, nutrition and time management to the students who have signed up so far.

America Offline was founded to help teens build more meaningful in-person connections and experiences offline through camps and other activities. But right now, with teens in the area facing little in-person interactions with their peers, the company currently is focusing its efforts on these video calls.

Mazon Zwerin, a fourth grader at Upper Laurel School in Menlo Park, misses his friends, team sports and simply being able to ask his teachers questions about schoolwork in-person, but said the QuaranTWEENS group gives him a chance to “joke around” with other kids, play games and motivate one another.

“We say things like: ‘Come on let's go, 10 more!’ We’re encouraging each other like we would when we were together.”

Mazon’s father, David Zwerin, said QuaranTWEENS is a good outlet to help his son stay active.

“He plays baseball, basketball and soccer and this gives him a chance to play with his friends in a different way – in a format that they’ve never had before and it’s structured,” Zwerin said. “We’re so close, yet so far away from each other and now he (Mazon) still has a common connection with his peers.”

Wolfe-Bloom, a seventh grader who attends Castillero Middle School in San Jose, said QuaranTEENS provides him some entertainment during a time in which he and many of his friends are “really bored.”

“You’re really getting to have conversations and actually communicating,” he explained. “It is on a screen, but it doesn't feel like it’s on a screen. … It really just gives me something to look forward to. We’re not just zombies staring at our phones day after day.”

Menlo Park native David Klein, America Offline’s founder and a trained life coach, has spent the last decade coaching young athletes in baseball through the Menlo Legends program and camp, and during several years as a baseball coach at Menlo-Atherton High School. He leads the program's boys' groups, while Kim D’Arcy, a school counselor and wellness coach, leads the girls groups.

”With teens trapped indoors during the COVID-19 lockdown, we wanted to provide an urgently needed way to connect face-to-face,” he said in a prepared statement. “During this time, kids are turning to social media and video games even more than usual, right at a time when they may be feeling a bit anxious and uncertain. We wanted to provide a healthy form of person to person connection and community.”

Diana Hawkins Manuelian, an America Offline board member who holds a doctorate in education, said the online group meetings provide a way to connect that is fundamentally different from the type of communication found in group video games and on social media.

“Having professional coaches lead the groups, allows America Offline to create healthy environments to connect and to identify those teens who may be at risk during these anxious times,” she said in a prepared statement. “We are social beings and we are all feeling very isolated and lonely right now.”

The program is currently being offered to students in the Bay Area, but America Offline plans to expand the service to other communities across the country.

Pricing is tiered based on need and there are scholarships available for low-income families and those hit hardest by the virus.

Sign up for QuaranTEENS sessions through Eventbrite.

Find comprehensive coverage on the Midpeninsula's response to the new coronavirus by the Almanac, Mountain View Voice and Palo Alto Online here.

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