In this episode, we ask young people in Oregon about what they thought and felt when COVID landed—and what they think and feel now, a few years in. You'll hear from Caroline Gao, a high school senior from Albany, and several students from Encore Academy in Warrenton.
Our guests for this episode are Cera Baker, Aubrey Bangs, Shaelyn Bangs, Alora Duggan, Mika Dyebar-Stinnett, Kaysi Ficker, Caroline Gao, Emma Humphries, Jacob Layson-Davis, Chantrell Lee, Lauren Mallett, Avery Martin, Teresa Middlemore, Josie Morinville, Lucy Palenski, Lily Peel, Liliana Patton, and Isabella Poe.
Caroline Gao is a teen writer, researcher, and organizer. As a writer, her work has been published by the Scholastic Art & Writing Awards and the University of Iowa’s International Writing Program. Her human-computer interaction research under Margaret Burnett has been recognized by the National Center for Women & Information Technology. She founded The World in Us, a cultural awareness nonprofit, and cofounded Aster Lit, an international youth literary magazine. She has interned with Next Up and the Asian Pacific American Network of Oregon. Gao lives in Albany, Oregon.
Gao’s essay “Unstable Connections” was published in the Winter 2021 issue of Oregon Humanities magazine.
In February 2022, she led a session of our So Much Together program titled “The Link Between Us: How Technology Can Create (and Impede) Opportunity.”
Lauren Mallett teaches at Warrenton High School, and formerly taught at Encore Academy. Her recent writing appears in Poetry Northwest, Puerto del Sol, The Seventh Wave, The Night Heron Barks, Sprung Formal, and other journals. She serves on the Oregon Poetry Association's board of directors. Lauren is the student contest chair of Cascadia, an online anthology and contest for Oregon's young poets.
Encore Academy is a private school in Warrenton, Oregon, focused on the performing arts. The students you hear in this episode submitted essays for the Summer 2022 issue of Oregon Humanities magazine, “Memory.” They also created visual pieces to accompany those essays, which you can see here.
Adam Davis: Hey there, I'm Adam Davis. And I want to welcome you to this episode of The Detour, which we're getting ready to release just as another year of COVID tainted school is about to start. Since COVID landed in Oregon in March 2020, there's been a lot of feverish talk about COVID and kids. Should schools shut down or not, should kids wear masks or not? What is the impact of social distancing on kids? And so much screen time? And the prospect that young people and their friends and family members might get sick?
A lot of this feverish talk about kids in COVID has been uttered by adults to other adults. In this episode, we try to take a different route. We ask young people what they thought and felt when COVID landed, and we ask them what they think and feel now, a few years in. First we talk with Caroline Gao, who's about to start her senior year of high school in Albany, Oregon, and who was a high school freshman when COVID hit. In the later part of the episode, you'll hear from several students at Encore Academy in Warrenton, Oregon, near Astoria, about what they want to remember and what they want to forget about the earlier phases of COVID.
I remember watching my own kids deal with COVID and school: the uncertainty, the strange ups and downs of emotions and energy, and the sense they and I shared that the whole thing was as bizarre as it was disappointing. But they also seemed to recognize more clearly than I did that it was what it was and it needed to be accepted and lived through and even enjoyed.
It was a joy to talk with the young people you'll hear from throughout this episode. We hope you enjoy listening too, and we hope you'll share these voices with the young people in your lives.
Caroline Gao lives and goes to high school in Albany, Oregon, where she has already started an international cultural awareness nonprofit called The World in Us and co-founded Aster Lit, an international youth literary magazine. There seems to be nothing Caroline can't do or speak clearly about. So instead of telling you more about Caroline, here she is.
Caroline Gao: So my name is Caroline. I'll be a senior at West Albany High School this year. And I'd say a lot of the work I do kind of relates to young people. I lead an organization called The World in Us, and we do different intercultural exchange activities, a lot of which are virtual, and I am also involved with Aster Lit, which is an international youth literary magazine. And I also do some political work as well as some research around socioeconomic equity in technology design.
Adam Davis: So that's a lot. It's interesting to think that, as a soon-to-be senior in high school, you're already talking about the work you do, and that you said at least a couple things that are international, like you're doing a couple things that are connecting with people all over the world. And I'm hoping we can get into that in a little bit, but I want to start by pushing back to the more local or immediate: Do you remember, in spring of couple years ago when COVID started to hit, what that felt like for you in high school? What did that feel like for you?
Caroline Gao: Yeah, absolutely. I still remember when, I think I was reading the South China Morning Post, and COVID was first coming out in China, starting to get really big around February. And there was kind of this impending sense among a lot of us that eventually this will impact us, something's gonna happen. And I think it was in March when we got the first notification that school would be out for just a couple weeks, we'll see where the situation goes. But obviously two weeks turned into a lot longer.
Initially that first two weeks felt nice, because I think a lot of students enjoy a break from time to time for school, but it got less exciting once it turned into the rest of the year. And it also became a little bit clear that I don't think our school or most schools in the US were really prepared for that school year to just fade into online studying.
I think for me, and for a lot of our peers, it felt I guess a little bit inevitable. It felt a little bit inevitable for some time. So for me personally, I felt like I knew something was going to happen and I knew we probably wouldn't be in school and things wouldn't be quite normal for a little bit, at least, but I definitely, especially at the beginning, did not expect the amount of time it took eventually. And it kind of felt there was this constant, like every month that they said it would be next month kind of feeling where it felt like the thing that was supposed to happen kept on being delayed a little bit. It was just a bit odd, I guess it was like this constant in-between space, except that in-between space lasted for like a year and a half.
Adam Davis: Yeah. And you kind of had a sense that something was coming. can you talk a little bit about that?
Caroline Gao: Yeah, so I guess I read the news a lot. Like a lot. I also have family in China. Most of my family is from China. So we could hear from my family their situation, and obviously the Chinese policies around COVID were quite a bit more intense than the ones here. But just hearing that and knowing like this state of globalization that we live in it was pretty much a given that COVID would eventually reach us in the US as well.
I guess it was weird for me because a lot of high schoolers don't necessarily check the news all the time, and we were in our day to day living business as usual, going to school and doing extracurriculars and stuff. But I think just seeing the news of things happening internationally, then the first few cases emerging in the US, obviously seeing how it spread in other countries, it seemed kind of obvious that it was going to spread like that in the US too. And that our community would eventually be one of those communities that was experiencing the same thing as everyone else in the news. It was just this kind of weird situation of knowing something life-changing is going to happen, and getting a preview of that.
Adam Davis: And it's interesting what you said a minute ago. You said you knew that something life-changing was coming. Once COVID landed in Oregon and landed in Albany, what were the first changes that you felt and noticed and started to go, “oh yeah, this for real”? What were the changes?
Caroline Gao: Yeah, the biggest one would definitely be school becoming virtual. I think how our school district did it was, at first, they said like for a week or two, that we would be just taking like a break to assess the situation. and then after that brief break, they said, “okay, we're doing online school.” But because we didn't really have that much infrastructure set up, then it was around like March or April when this happened.
We just had Google classroom, asynchronous updates as well, like emails. And we didn't really have any required, synchronous class time or really synchronous interaction with peers. So a lot of our class projects and class assignments also got like drastically changed to just, instead of everyone in English class, for example, reading the same book, it became read a book on your own and then make a little book project about it.
The daily rhythm of going to school, commuting to school and seeing people walking down the same halls and everything, it's very cyclical in the way high school is And then I think the most drastic change was just that entire cycle being gotten rid of, and then waking up when you felt like it, doing your work when you felt like it. And then that last thing through the rest of that year was definitely the most significant change for me personally.
Adam Davis: It's interesting how you talk about the change from, in addition to not sharing the physical space, but also like not reading the same book, not doing a report on a book that everyone's reading, but instead each of you choosing your own book—that sounds like it would lead to something like, I don't know if it's more isolation or certainly a more individual experience. How did you keep connected to people when you weren't going to the same place and reading the same books?
Caroline Gao: Yeah, that's a good question. I think it's something I'm still figuring out. I do like to reflect on the idea that this was individualized, like the way high school's already an individualized experience for everyone. I think the pandemic made it even more so. For me, I wasn't exactly going to hang out with people that much after school, and a lot of my interaction with people did come from school, and I guess I tend not to connect that much with people at my school in general.
So for me, I feel it was honestly through a lot of summer programs that I did virtually that summer, that I ended up finding people who I met online and connected with. And for some reason, meeting online made it easier to stay in touch and connect in an online setting, as opposed to meeting someone in person and then being expected to maintain that initial dynamic in an online setting.
I know a lot of my friends would FaceTime or text. For me, I can just look at people's stories on Instagram and be reminded that everyone is still existing and living a life.
Adam Davis: It's interesting that you say “meet,” like it was actually in the virtual world. You met a lot of people. And How do you meet people and develop sustained relationships and sustained projects without having sat face to face? How does that work for you?
Caroline Gao: I think for me, it was pretty interesting because the pandemic hit my freshman year, and that summer was when most of my projects started. So in a way, most of the work that I've done started in a virtual setting, as opposed to an in person.
Like I did an intercultural exchange writing program, which was supposed to be in person but was made virtual. And I also did a virtual research internship. I think with those programs, especially because this was near the beginning of the pandemic and it still felt a little bit like a shock to everyone, it was almost like a uniting factor for us. Even though we were from these different countries and from these very different perspectives and lived experiences, we still had this shared axe thrown in our high school careers, in addition to just shared interests as human beings.
I think with that program in particular, you apply and you talk about your interest in writing, basically. And for me, I feel like settings like that, where people chose to be in that setting together, really helped me find people who were interested in the same ideas I was. So when I shared, for example, my ideas for The World in Us, which is my organization that I started that summer, where we organized different programs for high schoolers as well as elementary schoolers to just learn about different cultures and different cultural perspectives. These were people who were already interested in those ideas, so it resonated with them a little more than it would if, for example, at my school, I just try to like talk to people randomly about those ideas.
For me personally, like West Albany High School never felt quite like my place.I felt like it was a little bit hard to find people with the same kinds of interests, whereas in an online setting where I guess there's just like a larger pool of people, frankly, to pick from, to meet, it was a little easier to find those people with those interests.
Adam Davis: That's super interesting to think that what you described as like the axe being thrown into your high school experience actually made it easier to meet people who felt like your people or shared your interests, and even made this shared virtual space feel like your place a little bit more than your in-person high school might. What countries were you talking to people from? What countries did it continue to talk to people from?
Caroline Gao: Yeah, so that summer, that program was called Between the Lines. It's by the university of Iowa. And I think there were like thirty countries. I think there's predominantly Middle Eastern and Central Asian countries. So there are people from Kazakhstan and Russia and Lebanon and Egypt, which for me was really fascinating as someone who didn't know a lot about countries in that region. It was really cool to be able to meet other young people who watch the same anime as I did and like the same authors as I did and who I really connected with, yet who lived on the other side of the globe.
And I think with The World in Us' work as well, we have quite a few team members and people involved from India and in China. Lots of cool places, I suppose.
Adam Davis: Why do you call it The World in Us?
Caroline Gao: Oh, I thought about this name for so long. I was trying to think of names that kind of captured like the sense of globalness, I guess, that a lot of our programs are centered around and with the world, because we tried to share a bit of the beauty of the world and its diversity with program participants. And then in us, obviously we're based in the US, so we do end up doing a lot of programs with US students. So trying to expose American students to the diversity and just the beauty of world cultures, but also in us as in every individual, I think, has a bit of the globe inside of them, has a bit of the world and has a unique worldly perspective to share. So I think it try to convey both that global focus as well as that individual attention and uniqueness that comes with every person's cultural perspective.
Adam Davis: It's a great name. And it was just really, also a really great explanation of the name. So thank you for that. It's interesting thinking how quickly you went to what seemed to me to be the positives that came out of COVID and some of the opportunities that opened up. And I just wonder, are there things now that stand out to you as having been challenging for you, for your peers, either in person or internationally, or do you hear certain challenges emerging across not just your own experience, but those with the people you know?
Caroline Gao: Yeah, absolutely. And I do think it's important to reiterate that my experience is not like most experiences. I know a lot of my peers, especially into last year, almost the entirety of our year was online and we had more infrastructure for that. So we had daily class. Well, we didn't have classes on Wednesday, but we had classes almost every day and they were live.
A lot of my friends struggled really hard with classes and focusing and getting the grades that they would've gotten in person. know a lot of my friends who might normally have had four-point GPAs lost them during our online schooling year. And there were obviously, some people had issues with connectivity. I think everyone had issues with connectivity, frankly. Obviously some people more than other. Just being able to log in regularly to classes, but most all being able to focus throughout every single class. When I think interaction was quite minimal in my classes, frankly, you had a lot of blank screens and it felt a little bit like being talked at as opposed to being interacted with like you would in a normal classroom.
Just absorbing content, being able to remember it. And also because we were in that online setting, things like monitoring tests or homework or things like that were pretty impossible. So everything became open-note. And I think for some of us, it impacted our ability to retain that information, because a lot of us retain information from cramming it for tests. So I do think in general, being able to absorb the typical amount of information that we would be to perform in our classes in our normal setting was really difficult for a lot of my peers.
There is still a lot of value to in person connection. And for me, for example, I do band and I play the flute and I do orchestra, and I think for a lot of musicians, it was a very difficult time. I think what the magic of music-making is, which is like a sense of community around this song, around this piece that everyone can listen to and feel in the moment, as well as like sports and extracurriculars and things that really revolve around that in-person interaction.
So really the activities that the vast majority of high schoolers engaged in were the most impacted. And that was difficult for a lot of us, I think.
Adam Davis: Yeah. We haven't talked much about Albany yet. And I wonder, how does Albany feel now to you as compared with how it felt to you before this hit?
Caroline Gao: Yeah. This is something I've been thinking about quite a lot, actually, because I feel like my relationship with Albany has gone through a lot of changes, because, being Asian American, I already felt a little bit out of place in terms of just not seeing other people who look like me and sometimes facing cultural ignorance or just things, especially as a kid, that other kids didn't know better than to say. And also just having, as I mentioned, sometimes these interests or ideas or things that I wanted to do that people around me didn't necessarily share. It always felt a little bit out of place to me. And I think for a while I almost had this kind of like resentment for being in Albany, because it felt so small and small-minded.
But I feel like, honestly, the pandemic and a lot of these opportunities were facilitated via technology and also getting to start some of those ideas that I'd wanted to start for so long, like starting The World in Us—for example, our first initiative was basically teaching a lesson on Chinese culture to my former fifth grade classroom. And even though it was a virtual, it was a really beautiful and redeeming experience to me, to have this culture that I once felt out of place for belonging to, and then being able to teach it to these kids in a way that makes them interested, curious about it, and where they get to ask the silly questions that maybe a fourth grader might not be the right person to ask, But me as like a high school who has processed and come to terms with my cultural identity, I'm happy to answer for them.
And I guess it just made me realize that Albany actually has a lot of beauty to it that I didn't realize before. And it has a lot of capacity for change and for progress, if that opportunity is granted to Albany and to the people within it. And also starting the organization made me realize how much support I had from my teachers and my former teachers who were so willing to give feedback and advice and things like that.
And I guess the last little piece is kind of random, but I took a lot of walks during the pandemic. I started taking walks around my neighborhood, because I didn't have anywhere else to walk. I think there's a lot of unseen beauty in suburbs, and in lawns, and in the way people choose to arrange their garden flowers or change their garden flowers every day. And especially the skies. I feel like, for a lot of my life, I was so focused on like the goals I needed to reach or the tasks I needed to finish that I hadn't taken time to just observe the physical space of Albany. So I feel like the pandemic gave me the privilege of having time to be reflective about not only the physical surroundings of Albany, but also my relationship to it, and realizing both the physical and, I guess, the social, like the innate beauty of this place and its capacity for change that I hadn't seemed to realize before.
So, long story short, I think before the pandemic I didn't realize how much I'd been given by Albany, and at this current point, I think I've reached a place of much greater gratitude and appreciation for Albany and for everything that it could become in the future, if people keep putting in the work to change it for the better.
Adam Davis: You talked about putting in the work there at the end. How did you conceive of and put in the work to start an international organization, during this strange period, out of Albany, Oregon. Can you just give a little sense of how that happened?
Caroline Gao: Yeah, for sure. I think I'd harbored the idea for a little bit, probably going into freshman year. Just like growing up in Albany, especially in elementary school, I'd always get questions like, “Where are you really from?” Because I wasn't allowed to say the US. Or questions about my identity and what I was, and if I was related to the other Asian in the room, and other things like that. And I know it impacts everyone in a different way, but for me, as fairly sensitive kid who already felt a little out of place, it made me feel a little more unwelcome than I think any kid should feel in a classroom.
And I was thinking of ways that I just didn't want another me. I didn't want another like little girl of color to face that when she was going through in high school or going through school. So I, in my view, I think just, based on my experience with education, I feel like education is the root of all sustainable change in all cultural shifts in terms of how people think of themselves in the world. And I also, being Chinese American, I've had the privilege of experiencing multiple cultures, and I think the beauty that resides within each one and again, with Albany, because it's a small place. It's not the most successful to people from, different countries and cultures.
I think I figured, as a high schooler, obviously there's a limit to what I can do, but something that I think anyone can do is pass on knowledge to other people, and grant exposure to other people, to ideas that they might not have had before. So with me, that was where that education aspect of The World in Us kind of came into my mind.
So I felt like especially younger kids, If they don't get that exposure early on, it can lead to ignorance setting in and cementing, which is not great. But if you get kids, when they're younger, to learn about everything that exists in the world and get excited about it, then that not only benefits them, but it also benefits the people around them who might be from those diverse backgrounds.
I started with that idea. And then I didn't really have time freshman year until the pandemic hit, so to start exploring that a little bit more and start contacting my teachers to ask about their ideas on what kinds of like lesson formats we might do. And that eventually led to our first few ideas around teaching guest lessons on certain cultures to elementary school classrooms.
So I spent the most of that summer just laying the foundation of The World in Us. And I was like, “oh, gotta pick a logo and a name.” I remember sending out a survey when I was first laying out my ideas, just sending it to anyone who would answer, with basically asking about what kinds of content do you think would be helpful to teach kids? Which of these names do you think is best? and things like that. And then from there, I just tried to reach out to my network of people I knew in programs that I'd done, especially if they related to cultural awareness, and see if there were any other young people who were interested in helping with this idea.
So that I guess was my recruitment process, especially in the beginning, to find like teammates was fairly organic, just asking friends, people and programs and talking about The World in Us a lot with anyone, even before it was a thing. I feel like talking about it helped make it feel more concrete.
And then from there, I think recruiting more teammates, and then we had like meetings every week to talk about ideas. And once we had ideas, implement them into programs and then, distribute tasks and things like that.
Adam Davis: I want to go back a little bit, because you talked about accessibility, and I know you're working a lot in one of the additional projects that you've got going on how people use technology, especially the internet. Like, why did that become something that interested you and what are you hoping to do by your work on it?
Caroline Gao: Absolutely. So with that, my work began by applying for an internship. It was also like a lot of things the summer after my freshman year. And there was basically this project that Professor Margaret Burnett was doing at OSU. And it was just, I remember the description was like, “people, humans made computers,” and like with our work, what I ended up working a lot on was socioeconomic accessibility and inclusion and technology design, but it stemmed that original project was around gender inclusivity and technology design.
But for me, obviously the pandemic, I think, made it clearer than ever how integral technology is to our lives and how tied it is with opportunity. Like, I've always had this interest in equity and expanding opportunity to every single person, and I think technology is just such an integral piece of that puzzle.
That is just another piece of that puzzle that I needed to learn more about. So that was what drew me to that project initially and led me to continue working on it. I think just learning more about it made me realize more and more how just how important it is to, the overall progress of equity.
Adam Davis: Let me ask, since you just said about the future, let me ask that kind of question. Have you done the kind of thing, thought what's this period that we're going through gonna look like five years out, ten years out? Do you have any idea what you're gonna remember of this?
Caroline Gao: I think for me, again, this is like very unique to me, but I feel like the summer after my freshman year, like when COVID was at its worst, was when I crystallized what kind of changes I wanted to make with my presence in any community that I was part of.
And when I met a lot of the people who I would really end up looking up to as like mentors and also as friends, and whom I connected with more than I had connected with other people before. And obviously it was also a time of significant disruption. It was like a big blur, but for me, I think I was honestly happier during the pandemic than I had been before that.
Even in-person school, the transition was really harsh for me personally. And I was not at my best during in-person schooling the year after. So for me, it was almost this early, nice interlude in my life where I got to reflect on life and discover my passions with more time than I had had during in-person school.
Adam Davis: And it's interesting, too, how you prefaced a lot of what you just said with “for me.” It seems like you're very aware that different people face different challenges, different circumstances. Do you feel like there are certain kinds of challenges that, even if in a way you didn't experience them, you feel more acutely aware of two and a half years into the pandemic?
Caroline Gao: Yeah, I think the schooling thing is still a big thing on my mind because even though I tend to do pretty well in school and I have a lot of support at home, it was still hard for me to focus during class. Sometimes I would just leave my zoom running to make ramen because it was really boring and I was hungry. And I guess I'm lucky that I can leave class for a little bit and still be able to do the assignment afterward and things like that. But knowing the level of support and privilege I have, and still knowing how much I struggle to just like focus in class, where I have a lot of friends who are neurodivergent. I have a lot of friends who don't have that kind of support and who really need to listen to every word in a class in order to be able to do the assignments that accompany it. And I think just being able to focus in class is really hard, and sometimes I feel like some of my friends don't realize how much impact what we do during these four years can have on like the rest of our lives and the opportunities that people choose to give us.
And I just feel like there was this issue of apathy in general, where a lot of people kind of lost their will to keep working on school when the world was as messed up as it was and trying to focus on doing an assignment about like medieval Europe felt a little bit removed in the midst of that. That apathy and that difficulty over focusing on something that feels a little bit removed from the real world, never fully recovered after we got back in person. So with my age group, I feel like that was a pretty big issue that a lot of us encountered and obviously issues around accessibility of technology and being able to connect to class consistently and hear what the teacher was saying was a big thing. And I have a lot of friends also who have little siblings and whose parents were working and who had to manage their siblings and also attend class at the same time, which is very, very difficult.
Adam Davis: Do you feel like you're thinking about the future, you're wondering about your future, feels different now than it did two and a half years ago?
Caroline Gao: Yes. How so. For one thing, I think I'm just a very different person than I was two and a half years ago. I think my interests have evolved a lot, and just my idea of myself and what I'm capable of has also shifted a lot. It's still something I'm working on, but trying to think of my future as a thing that unfolds and a thing that the work I'm doing now, like college might be not an end goal, but just like a thing that comes along the way if it aligns with these things that I'm working toward.
And also obviously the pandemic made it clear, you can't really have a great five year plan. I remember making my four-year plan at the beginning of high school, obviously it looks a little different now. So I think now I try to be a little more adaptable and be a little more willing to accept changes and accept that I can make plans, but I'm probably not going to follow them. And that is okay.
Adam Davis: Caroline Gao is the founder of the international cultural awareness nonprofit The World in Us and cofounder of Aster Lit, an international youth literary magazine.
If you're listening to this, you might know Oregon Humanities for our Consider This program. But did you know we also publish a magazine that's free to Oregonians and written by Oregonians? In advance of each issue, we put out a call for submissions on a different theme—a set of questions. And for this summer's issue, the theme was “memory.”
Lauren Mallett is a teacher at Encore Academy, a performing arts school in Warrenton, Oregon. Lauren was sent the theme and questions by a friend, and she took it to her students to see if they wanted to submit their memories and stories of the pandemic. They did. Here are a few of the stories from students in grades four through nine about what they want to remember about the pandemic and what they'd like to forget. at the end, you'll hear Oregon Humanities’ communications director and magazine editor, Ben Waterhouse, talk with Lauren about her students’ experiences writing and submitting their stories.
Liliana Patton: My memory of COVID-19 is that me and my family had to move from Portland to Gearhart. The smell of cleaner and sanititzer made me sneeze. The memory of not being able to see people's faces or go places. I did like being home with my family. We got to be around one another more. I get to go to a fun new school because of the pandemic.
I want to forget all the times my connection was lost in a Zoom meeting. I want to forget all the homework I had to do in an hour. I want to forget all the times I cried. I want to forget all the times I cried.
Avery Martin: Avery Iselle Martin and I'm in sixth grade. If the bad things didn't happen, I wouldn't be as happy as I am now by Avery Iselle Martin. Ten years from now there will be things I want to remember. But not just exciting things like Christmas presents or eating cake. I want to remember the things that were really special, like meeting new people that really changed my life for the better and not for the worse.
During the pandemic I got a puppy. Before that I wanted a horse. Then I realized how much work a horse is. When we first tried to get a puppy, the whole litter died, so we had to wait a whole year to get one. When we finally did it was the happiest feeling ever.
Another thing that happened during the pandemic was moving to a new school. At my old school it was really hard to focus so I could barely get anything done. But when I tell you that my new school is the best, I'm not just saying it—I'm meaning it. Everybody here is so kind and friendly. Even though I have a big class, I still have time to do my work and have fun while doing it.
Most of this I want to remember, but some not so much. My litter of puppies dying is one example of something I wish to forget. But if the bad things didn't happen I wouldn't be as happy as I am now. So maybe it's not that bad.
Isabella Poe: I'm Isabella Poe and I'm in ninth grade.
I think realizing what was actually happening and everything being taken away so quickly were the worst parts of the pandemic for me. I believe it was in March 2020. I was going to public school with my good friends, getting ready for competition with my dance team, and I was pretty happy.
I first heard about COVID-19 after an OMSI field trip with my class. I remember on the trip that our teachers were telling us to use lots of hand sanitizer and be careful crowding in large groups. I didn’t think much of this, but a few days later my school completely closed down. My dance studio stopped classes and competitions were canceled, along with our recital coming up in June. Everyone was told to stay home, so I couldn’t see any of my family or friends. I felt out of control. I remember hearing “Two weeks, we should be back in two weeks.” So I reminded myself through the confusion and uncertainty that it wouldn’t last long.
- began filling up, people were getting very sick. Months went by, and it felt like it just kept getting worse. I want to forget this time because it was so scary and heartbreaking. It was heartbreaking to see families separated and loved ones pass away. It was scary to wonder what the pandemic could turn into. It was so hard to accept that our lives would probably never be the same again. I am so thankful that today I get to see all my family and friends again. We finally get to live our lives, even if it’s not the same as it used to be.
What would I like to remember from the pandemic? One amazing moment that I’d like to remember actually occurred just the other night. It was time for my dance team to showcase our piece at the Liberty Theater in Astoria. It was a dance extravaganza!
I sat in the theater to watch the first half until it was our time to perform. It was the first time in nearly two years I had been in such a packed audience without masks. The crowd was full of people who loved to watch dance. They were energetic and excited. I could feel it. The dancers came onstage (no masks) and were ready to share the gift of performing that they had missed so much. They soaked up the presence of the audience, and their smiles showed how grateful they were to be on stage. I watched as the loud hype music flowed into my ears. In that moment, I realized how much I had missed just a regular performance. And I realized that we should all be so thankful to be together. Living our lives, together.
Cera Baker: Cera and I'm in fourth grade.
I got COVID. I pushed through. It smelled like sickness. It tasted like medicine. I felt my bed—it sounded like home. I was online-schooled for a while. My horse died. Me and my family planned a trip to Disney, but it was canceled. Two of my cats died.
I want to remember my nephew was born. I want to remember school and friends. It is so fun to learn with nice teachers. I also want to remember I got two cats. You need the bad for the good—it is okay to be sad. You can be sad and happy at the same time.
Josie Morinville: Hi, I'm Josie Morinville, and I'm currently a senior.
The scene from my life that I’d like to share is when I was in my first year of being a counselor in 4-H. Ever since I became a counselor, I have had so much to learn about becoming a better leader. Being a counselor has had such an impact on my life. It has also taught me how to be honest and kind to others around me.
Being a counselor has taught me how to show animals and make money off the animals. Showing sheep and pigs is more difficult than others think. When I step into the arena, I get that feeling of butterflies in my stomach.
When the pandemic started, we all knew that it was unexpected and had to realize that these kinds of things happen. We all have to just go with it. When it ends, it ends; when we come back, we come back. Just know that we are back and ready to put the show on the road and show the community what we can do.
Mika Dyebar-Stinnett: My name is Mika Dyebar-Stinnett and I'm in sixth grade
During the pandemic, sad things and happy things happened. I know I want to remember the beginning of the pandemic, because that’s when I got my rabbit. I also want to remember my friends and I going to Great Wolf Lodge. Even though we had to wear masks, it was still fun because I got to spend time with my friends. The pandemic made me pretty sad, so I got myself into music.
I heard “Dynamite” on the radio and asked my mom who it was. She said it was BTS. At the time I couldn’t think of why a band would name themselves three letters. Then I started to listen to more of their music. I loved them so much that I listened to them all day and all night. But then fast forward to now: I listen to BTS so much. I went to look for more bands and found Stray Kids. I love Stray Kids now and my favorite songs are “Miroh,” “Maniac,” “Domino,” “Charmer,” and “Booster.” My favorite members are Han Jisung, Hwang Hyanjin, and Lee Felix.
During the pandemic, my rabbit died. The sight of him made me cry and I only had him for three months. I hope he is happy where he is now. I lost a few friends due to COVID. My dad lost touch with their parents so I never got to see them again. I also remember that my mom, dad, and I all got COVID. It wasn’t fun, and I was kept at home for two weeks. My dog named Mac died at the beginning of Covid. I felt sad for a while, but I got over it. Now I have a job. I get to watch dogs, and I get paid for it. I love the job, because I love dogs. When I look at one of the dogs, I think of Felix from Stray Kids because of her bangs. I remember when I couldn’t hang out with one of my friends because her grandma got COVID. I felt sad for my best friend when she had to put one of her dogs down. I also felt bad for her because her horse died, too. For a while I started listening to sad music like “Criminal” and “Lo$er=L♡ver.” These are some things I want to forget during the pandemic.
Shaelyn Bangs: Hello, I'm Shaelyn Bangs and I am in sixth grade. It's easy to remember what you want to forget by Shaelyn Bangs.
Everyone in the world experienced COVID. It has been hard to watch the world fold into different directions we never thought it would. COVID hit the US when I was in fourth grade. At this moment of writing, I am in sixth.
It’s easy to remember what we want to forget. Everything that feels sad, embarrassing, and has some spark of fury is stuck in your brain, unable to get out. COVID might be one of those instances. Everyone hates COVID because of the threat that it might kill the ones you love. You had to stay in your house unless you wanted to take the risk of making someone sick. The point here is that COVID is going to be stuck in my brain for the rest of my life.
I remember the start of COVID, when I was in fourth grade. I was not able to visit my grandparents after a long trip. I sprained my finger right before the shutdown and was not able to say goodbye to my friends. I was stuck with my siblings; although I love them, it was hard not getting a chance to be alone. I cried when a family dog died a little later. I cried when my cat died soon after, and following him went my bunny who had to be put down because of flystrike. All of this happened in the year that COVID hit. It was a fragile and tragic time for everyone. I remember crying night after night. I remember feeling lost, sad, and weak. I remember watching the rain clouds and hearing the thunder at night. I remember sitting on the porch and smelling the dew.
Still, COVID had us all wrapped in a way that was impossible to unfold. Even though I want to forget all of this, I’d rather not. COVID made me stronger and I want to pass this story on. Hopefully you would consider this and treasure both the good and bad.
Audrey Bangs: Audrey Bangs.
Ben Waterhouse: And what grade are you?
Audrey Bangs: Fourth grade.
Ben Waterhouse: Thank you.
Audrey Bangs: What I want to remember about the pandemic is switching schools. I liked switching schools, because at my old school it wasn't fun like Encore Academy is. At my old school, it was quiet, and a lot of people were mean to each other. At my new school it’s loud, fun, and everybody is silly. I made a lot of new friends at my new school, and no one was mean to each other. I felt happy at my new school, even when I was wearing a mask. It’s a dance school. I love my new teachers and friends. The pandemic wasn't just bad. It was good, too.
There are a lot of things that I want to forget about the pandemic. One main thing is not seeing my family members. When the pandemic started, everything smelled like Clorox wipes! We went into our field a lot in the pandemic. We shared our field with our Grandpa and Grandma. So once we were in the field, and we saw them. But we couldn't give them a hug because we had to be six feet apart. We talked to them but could not go near them. This made me sad because we were not able to go close to them. I love hugging my Grandpa and Grandma! That was one thing I want to forget about the pandemic.
Lauren Mallett: I am Lauren Mallett and I teach grades four through twelve at Encore Academy. This is the school's inaugural year. It's a performing art school in Warrenton, Oregon.
So I had a friend send me the prompt for this issue of the magazine and initially thought, oh, I don't have time for that. And it stuck with me, the theme of memory. And I decided, no, actually I can fit that in. And it's gonna be really valuable for my students to do some of this reflection that led them to these stories. So I'm glad I did.
So, Lauren, what have your students said about the experience of writing these stories? While watching them record, it was interesting to see them respond to one another. It's a tight-knit community. And so many of the stories that they have practiced this week, for example, in class, I've heard them reflect on those shared moments. For example, dance performances and competitions that they were at together. I've watched them revise and edit based on the reader's chair experience of hearing one another. And we've provided each other feedback about moments in the stories that moved us. So themes that I've heard from them about each other's work would be moments that they felt connected in terms of feeling.
I feel the pieces are pretty open and emotional. Talking about, we talk about highlights and low lights, and the way in which we structured these writing, writings allowed them to explore those.
Ben Waterhouse: How did they, your students react when you told them that we wanted to work with them, to publish these pieces?
Lauren Mallett: They were really excited. We had talked about the possibility that we might hear back, "Awesome, but no, thanks." And as a professional writer myself, I've spoken with them about the submission process and what it's like to receive acceptance what it's like to receive rejection. I shared with them that I felt confident sending in this submissions that there was really a lot there, but that at that point it was out of my control.
They've asked that their payment be received in what I thought was a pretty fun way. Can you tell us about that?
Ben Waterhouse: Yeah. So part of the package for them is to raise resources for student projects. And so they've just opened a WordPress account and are putting together an anthology of their writing from throughout the year: encoreacademyanthology.net. And it says "Coming soon!"
Adam Davis: We'd love to hear from people of any and all ages about what you most want to remember of COVID and what you most want to forget. Please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can find links to Caroline Gao's work and The World in Us in our show notes where you'll also see art from the students at Encore academy.
Today's intro and outro music is "Sweet BS," "Boom Bop #1," and "Real Chill Smooth" by my son, Jacob Layson-Davis, who as a fourteen-year-old in the early days of the pandemic did some beat making. When COVID hit, jacob was sleeping later and staying up later and often making music or drawing or both. There was plenty that was jarring about those early days of the pandemic for Jacob, but there was also something generative happening. He seemed to have more time and he seemed to feel that the time was his in a way it hadn't been.
Jacob Layson-Davis: The Detour is produced by Keiren Bond. David Friedlander is our editor. Our assistant producers are Ben Waterhouse, Alexandra Powell Bugden, and Karina Briski. Special thanks to Caroline Gao and to Lauren Mallett and her students at Encore Academy. I'm Jacob Layson-Davis. Thanks for listening. See you next time.