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11th-graders record firsthand accounts of life during a pandemic

American history teacher inspired by FDR's Fireside Chats
New York Teacher
Fireside Chats

Students from the Brooklyn HS of the Arts used “Fireside Chats” to talk about how the pandemic has affected them.

Years from now, young people will be able to learn what it was like to be a student during the historic
COVID-19 pandemic of 2020 through the firsthand accounts of 11th-graders at the Brooklyn HS of the Arts. Through videos, Andrew Savage’s American history students have recounted how the pandemic has affected them.

Sanai tells about her mother, who contracted and recovered from the virus: “My mother is a first responder and has no choice but to go to work.”

Jaisha explains her feelings about remote learning: “I totally miss school. I am an in-person learner and I like when teachers ask questions and I can respond. It can be too much when there are things happening at home.”

Daqwaun also misses school and said: “I want to resume my normal routine of going to school and participating in extracurricular activities such as tutoring, internships and trips.”

During a unit on the Great Depression, Savage realized that President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s “Fireside Chats,” which used radio to communicate directly with the American people, would adapt well to modern-day students telling stories about their own lives during the coronavirus crisis.

He set up the project in two parts. First, students had to research and provide up-to-date facts about the effects of the virus in the city and the state. Then they discussed the impact the virus had on them, very much the way Anne Frank’s diary provides insights into her life while she hid from the Nazis during World War II.

Students at the tech-savvy school in Boerum Hill listened to a “Fireside Chat” from 1935 and then, with Savage’s advice to “be yourself and don’t read from cue cards,” they began their own chats lasting from five to 10 minutes. The videos have become part of the Public COVID-19 Archive at the CUNY College of Staten Island and are being considered for inclusion in the Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library in Hyde Park, New York.

In a follow-up assignment to reflect on their work, Daniella said, “This ‘Fireside Chat’ has made me come to terms with how I really feel about this pandemic situation. It was difficult to admit how much I went through, but it became comfortable to know that I am not alone.”

Julia, who had spoken of her fears about her mother and brother going to work every day, reflected, “This was my first step in accepting everything that happened to my family and me during this pandemic.” 

Like his students, Savage, who has been teaching for nine years, would like to get back to the classroom. He feels it’s important for students’ social and emotional development. “Nothing replaces human experience,” he said.

Related Topics: Pedagogy