Inspired by a songwriting class she hosted with her local elementary school (as well as experience with her restless and frustrated 10-year-old sister), Julia Segal, 17, came up with the creative, musical solution to fill the time.
Dubbed Quarantunes, the program uses musically talented teens who are willing to teach in exchange for optional donations to medical efforts that are fighting the spread of the coronavirus.
Segal initially envisioned Quarantunes catering to the Palo Alto area, with her friends and classmates as the teachers, but she said she quickly realized "there are kids everywhere in the country that are looking for ways to be occupied."
Through word of mouth and social media, Bay Area teens told friends in other parts of the country about Quarantunes, and the organization grew rapidly, exceeding Segal's expectations.
"I thought there was an extent to which it could grow organically," she said, but teens from across countries around the globe, including India, Russia and Spain, wanted to join in.
Founded in early April, Quarantunes has more than 130 teachers who collectively offer more than 5,000 lessons to 500 students. And what's more, the organization has raised more than $25,000 in donations, all of which benefit the CDC Foundation, an independent nonprofit created by Congress to mobilize resources that support the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s work.
Teenagers who volunteer said they've been happy to share their love of music.
Tyler Liu, an incoming University of California, Berkeley freshman, is teaching piano.
"It's a great opportunity to give back to the community and make kids feel happy about checking out music," Liu said.
Madelynn Hardke, a voice teacher from Oakland, added that "even if you aren't able to be there in person, just being able to sing with somebody makes kids so excited about learning music."
Parents are likewise pleased that the program exists.
"This whole experience has been fulfilling and lifesaving because I now have time to do the things I need to for work and my kids are occupied," said Margarita Golod, a Bay Area resident whose two children take lessons. "It's been good for my kids to see this example of young adults who are positively influencing other children and families."
Allison Briscoe-Smith, an Oakland-based psychiatrist whose daughter takes songwriting and singing lessons with Quarantunes, praised the program as a "mini revolution of providing high-quality training and instruction to kids who might not get it."
Going from zero to hundreds of students overnight wasn't easy, Segal said. Getting Quarantunes up and running required hard work. Scheduling and texting teachers for headshots was done manually by Segal and Lisa Kopelnik, the organization's chief communications officer.
"We were the marketing team, the communications team, everything all in one," Kopelnik said. "Julia and I would wake up at 7 (a.m.) and go to bed at 11 (p.m.). The first couple weeks were crazy; we were emailing hundreds of schools, music programs and making sure all the lessons were running smoothly."
Chief Operating Officer Naama Bejerano, who will be attending Stanford University this fall, said it took time to establish smooth communication among board members and teachers, especially as Quarantunes grew beyond the Bay Area.
"Communicating with people when they live all over, teach different things and have different availabilities was initially a challenge," Bejerano recalled. "That wasn't something we thought of at the beginning."
And many of the problems that arose were not the sort of things that the high school students had encountered before.
"One teacher quit without any notice," Segal said, "so we had to reassign 20 students, but there were not enough teachers.
"There had been a lot of points where we had to stop and think how to prevent this situation from occurring (again)," she said. "Each of the obstacles served an important purpose as learning experiences that were necessary to running an organization."
Over the past four months, the team put systems in place to keep things running smoothly. Quarantunes adopted a policy that requires teachers to provide two weeks' notice before quitting, while an online schedule app, called Picktime, eliminated the need for manual scheduling.
Now the focus has shifted to ensuring accessibility for all students, as well as scaling the organization to become a national or, perhaps, international platform.
"A lot of times music lessons tend to be accessible only if you have the money," Bejerano added. "By breaking down those barriers, making pay optional and opening it up to all students, Quarantunes is able to spread music in a time like this."
A key part of Quarantune's accessibility is its instrument donation program, which delivers musical instruments to students' homes if they meet financial requirements and live within an hour of Menlo Park. Several Bay Area music stores have partnered with Quarantunes to donate instruments for free, while teachers and students also donate their old instruments.
Quarantunes also trains teachers to work with children with different abilities, with instruction by an expert in special education.
Currently, Quarantunes is scrambling to find enough teachers for its influx of students, but the leaders hope the organization continues to grow to serve thousands, and possibly hundreds of thousands, of young people interested in music.
Quarantunes currently offers a range of lessons including piano, strings, wind and brass, songwriting composition and even art forms such as drawing and painting.
But the group's biggest lesson goes beyond any specific instruction.
Quarantunes proves "that young people are able to address big problems," Briscoe-Smith, the parent and psychiatrist, said. "Every kid involved is an activist working to solve this big problem about COVID-19."
For more information, people can visit quarantunes.site.