COVID-19. Remote learning. Social justice.
Fifth-graders from PS/IS 184, one of the UFT’s United Community Schools in Brownsville, Brooklyn, grapple with these issues in their online book, “Tales From a COVID Kid!” They created the book to share personal experiences from the pandemic.
“These kids are so filled with emotion, we’ve got to give them a way to let it out,” said 5th-grade teacher Traci Campbell. She got the idea for the book from online classroom conversations about the virus and about the anti-police brutality protests following George Floyd’s death.
One 5th-grader worried about his father’s safety working at Elmhurst Hospital in the virus’s epicenter in Queens. The project “was interesting because I got to see everyone’s experience,” the student said. “It made us appreciate everything that was going on and prepare for more.”
In the book, students discuss their feelings about remote learning, their desire to return to school and see their friends, the importance of wearing masks and the Black Lives Matter movement.
Denise Huggins, the school’s librarian and UFT chapter leader, said “conversations blew up” around Floyd, a Black man killed on May 25 when a Minneapolis police officer knelt on his neck. Huggins says students were already aware of police violence but “never realized how much it affected them,” and the book gave them a voice.
Students selected graphics to accompany their writing and used the Book Creator application that Yvette Lewis, a special education teacher, introduced to her colleagues in a professional learning session.
Math teacher Winston Albrecht and paraprofessionals Javona Deese and Danyell Spencer also worked on the project. “We had to rely on each other so much throughout remote learning,” said Lewis. “It forced us to do better. We were able to reach our students based on the collaborative things we did.”
The staff envisions the book as a “time capsule” to be read years from now to help people understand how students felt during the pandemic.
In the final section, “Tales of a COVID Educator,” Campbell and her colleagues praise the students for rising to the challenge of remote learning.
Campbell said they ended the book on that note because they wanted to leave students feeling empowered. She said she has “great expectations” for them in middle school because they had proved in 5th grade what they are capable of.
Said Lewis, “There’s no other set of students that went through what they went through. These are COVID kids.”