Klein High Student Recognized For Student Heroes Award


Bearkat senior, Sneha Shenoy, with some of her artwork for Pledge To Distance


In light of the COVID-19 pandemic, one Bearkat senior, Sneha Shenoy decided to take action. Her Pledge To Distance campaign, since it’s launch in April, has spread to all corners of the world. Reaching well over 3000 pledges, it was acknowledged by well-known public officials such as Mayor Sylvester Turner, Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo, and U.S. Senator Ted Cruz.

In August, this campaign’s mission shedding light on the necessity for communities to stay safe even garnered recognition from the Texas State Board of Education. Honored with the 2020 Student Heroes Award, Shenoy hopes to be able to further grow her campaign with the team behind Pledge To Distance.

“It’s not just about the artwork or signing a pledge or posting on your social media,” Shenoy said. “All that stuff is great. But essentially, what Pledge To Distance is all about is communicating that same message that you’ve heard from different platforms, but in a different way. And it’s about taking a moment to stop and reflect on what your moral responsibility is right now as a person in society and how it’s changed from the beginning of this year.” 

With schools reopening, the team is working extra hard to promote safe practices such as mask-wearing and social distancing. Moving forward, the Pledge To Distance team is ready to tackle any new obstacles that the war against COVID-19 throws at them.

“I’m always thinking of ways to try and make it better. We’ve been adapting as public health officials have been adapting because with coronavirus being so relatively new, we’re always finding out new stuff about it.”

In fact, COVID recently struck close to home for the Pledge To Distance team. With dozens of known active cases at Klein Oak High School just a week before PSAT testing, many students were forced to go into self-isolation to contain the spread of the deadly virus. Worldwide, COVID-19 has claimed the lives of over 1 million people, including over 230,000 American deaths.

“Although scientists won’t know for sure until testing becomes widespread, COVID-19 could be about 10 times more deadly than the seasonal flu, which leads to death in about 0.1% of those it infects,” says Donald N. Forthal, MD, professor of medicine and chief of infectious diseases at UCI School of Medicine.

While a public-health crisis of this magnitude is something no teenager should ever have to deal with, Kristen Haggard, HOSA sponsor and nursing pathway teacher, was not surprised by the initiative. 

“Sneha has no chill,” Haggard exclaimed. “She is the hardest working student I’ve ever known!”

With a team of 17 other Klein High students, Haggard and Shenoy started this campaign from scratch right at the beginning of quarantine. The inspiration behind Pledge To Distance started when Shenoy began to notice her peers on social media not following social distancing and mask-wearing procedures.

 “Kids didn’t get it,” she said. “They were all still hanging out and getting together in these big groups.” 

Despite the CDC pushing out guidelines on how to stay safe during a pandemic, adjusting to such drastic changes in our lifestyle proves to continue to be a challenge for many people, especially younger demographics.

Haggard explained, “Kids usually don’t want to hear stuff from their parents or teachers. They’re tired of that. But if they hear it from their peers, it may work out differently. Peer pressure, but in a positive way.”

It was from that conversation that the inspiration for Pledge To Distance was born- a campaign that would make wearing masks and social distancing something that was cool, something that was trendy, something that teenagers could post on their social media and make an aesthetic. 

When people take the pledge, it is meant to serve as a sort of accountability, to make us pause and think before doing things we’re not supposed to do in a pandemic. And that accountability is precisely what has been helping 3,300 people, and counting, remember to make responsible decisions that help keep their communities and the people around them safe, healthy, and alive. 

“The positivity and the taking action and the knowing that you don’t have to be an adult to make a difference in this world is what the Student Heroes Award is all about,” Haggard said.

The message behind the Pledge To Distance campaign has also touched the heart of Donna Bahorich, who has served eight years on the State Board of Education and four years as Chair of the State Board. Bahorich, who chose Sneha for the 2020 Student Heroes Award, said that what stood out about Pledge To Distance was the creativity.

Bahorich explained, “What inspired me about Pledge To Distance was how she thought of a creative way, using art, to engage her fellow peers to mask up.”

Bahorich, who works directly with decisions regarding schools opening back up, knows the importance of students staying vigilant and responsible in regards to how we behave during a pandemic.

“It may not be the most fun thing to do, but when you make something creative out of it, and artistic, as Sneha has done, it would inspire a lot of kids, who may be hesitant at first, to realize that wearing masks is a cool thing that we do with each other and for each other.”

Shenoy and her team definitely show no sign of stopping anytime soon. Even as the school year begins, they continue to work on the campaign, and in the spirit of social distancing- from the safety of their own homes. Shenoy herself is hopeful for the future.

 “Even though I’ve been doing a lot of things for Pledge To Distance, it is not just me. It is 17 other bright, intelligent, hard-working people that are behind this campaign too. And we hope that the campaign will continue to advocate for public health- establishing new norms and educating on what’s best for our communities.”