On March 16th, I sent out the following message to my eighth grade students and their families, and I was moved by how quickly they responded, ready to start documenting this historical moment. In fact, so many students expressed interest that we have now expanded the blog to include entries from our staff as well as our sixth and seventh grade students. And so it is, that each day, I will share one or two of their journal entries here, sharing with you their firsthand accounts of life during the international COVID-19 pandemic. Please feel free to read along, and if you are able, leave an encouraging comment for these young writers and artists as they try to make sense of a world transformed.
Dear students and families,
I have been thinking about each of you during this break from our regular studies and day-to-day activity. I know the school district is providing regular updates and information to ensure that families know what is happening, receive supports such as grab-and-go meals, healthcare, and mental health services. I wanted to reach out now to offer an opportunity for students who are interested to earn some extra credit while also documenting this moment in history.
As a child growing up in Indiana, I heard the prohibition era story over and over again of my great grandpa, Clarence Russell. As the legend went, he was once carted off to jail for selling his moonshine, shouting for my great grandma to let the cows out to pasture as he was taken away. In his autobiography, my grandpa wrote about the experience: “From 1922 to 1924 Dad made moonshine whiskey & sold to Chicago bootleggers, $5.00 for 5 gallon jug. They would come with false bottom cars and get 35-40 gallons and in Chicago sell it for $1.00 per 1/2 pint. They paid Dad in gold coins – about the only cash crop for us. Mom told Dad that if he didn’t stop she would take the kids and leave. Her kids were not going to be raised with their Dad in prison. He stopped. He never drank or smoked till he died at 95 years.”
We find ourselves alive during extraordinary times, times that will likely be remembered years from now in the same way my great-grandfather’s story became legend in our family. This year we have learned about the indigenous history of this land we live on, about the arrival of British colonists on the east coast, about the moments leading up to and through the American Revolutionary War, and the first years of the newly created United States of America with all it’s constitutional framework. We talked about how these moments and grassroots movements defined people’s lives and changed how they saw themselves as Americans. And, through it all, we have learned through the voices of those who lived it, the primary source documents that exist to shine a light on the lived experiences of those who were there.
Now, we find ourselves living through history. The rise of COVID-19, and our world’s collective fight to keep it from overwhelming us, may be the story of this generation. Just like the Great Thanksgiving Listen allowed you to interview loved ones about their stories of life during historical moments like 9/11, the Vietnam War, and even World War II, now you have a chance to record your memories of this historical moment. Imagine, thirty years from now, your own children might want to learn about what it was like to live through the COVID-19 outbreak. They’ll be curious about what it was like to be forced to stay home from school. They might laugh about the mass hoarding of toilet paper that caused the line at Costco to stretch around to the back of the building every morning as people waited to grab up the latest shipment to arrive and be rationed out. They’ll want to know if you knew anyone who was sick and what that experience was like. They’ll question you about what you did to pass your time each day and how you kept up your friendships, athletics, and other extracurricular activities. They’ll want to know how you learned about what was going on in your community, state, the United States, and the world.
As long as we are out of school, I’m encouraging you to keep a daily record about what your life was like during the school shutdown. This is not an official assignment, but will be worth significant extra credit if you take the time to record and submit your thoughts. I don’t want to wait any longer to share this with you as the stories that could be told are too important to miss.