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‘I could not explain what I was feeling’: Journal project gave Spokane students opportunity to turn coronavirus crisis into reflective history

Addy Stone, a sophomore at Lewis and Clark High School has been keeping a journal during her time away from in-class instruction. In several Spokane high schools, students have written journals to express their feelings about living and learning during the COVID-19 pandemic. Colin Mulvany/THE SPOKESMAN-REVIEW (Colin Mulvany / The Spokesman-Review)

As English teachers in Spokane grappled with the realities of COVID-19, they also seized an opportunity that may never come again.

Then they passed the baton to their students, who for the past 10 weeks have created a written history – intimate journals of self-expression during what they hope will be a once-in-a-lifetime crisis.

Then perhaps they can share those stories with their grandchildren: “How I survived the pandemic of 2020.”

The idea came hard on the heels of the school closures.

John Parks, the coordinator of secondary-level English for Spokane Public Schools, shared the idea with teachers, who also saw a chance to stay better connected with their students.

“My job is to support and serve secondary teachers,” Parks said. “After we got the news, we started meeting. The teachers were no longer able to talk to their students, so they created an experience that allows them to write about that experience.”

The result was the COVID-19 Journal Project, a collection of words and photos from 30 students.

“The whole idea was writing a first-person account and allowing students to be a journalist and a historian,” Parks said.

Parks said the goal of the project was for students to “reflect on their learning-at-home experience through reading (articles and stories) and journal writing.”

“Then the students will take their writing, revise it and put it into some sort of final presentation: photo essay, podcast, short story or letter, based on the students’ own interests and passions.”

No matter the medium, that passion came through.

“I feel like usually I’m not much of a writer,” said Addy Stone, a sophomore at Lewis and Clark High School. “But this has given me an opening to get out my emotions.

“It’s been a safe place because I can put all my emotions out there,” Stone said.

The project also offered an outlet for teachers, who since late March have met twice weekly – virtually, of course – to collaborate, plan and share resources “to bring life to this project,” Parks said.

“Most importantly, these teachers would never have had a venue for this type of partnership and collaboration prior to the pandemic,” Parks said.

Each teacher has taken a different approach.

LC teacher Jennifer Showalter borrowed the idea from an Oregon high school where students would write a letter to a stranger, closing with “Sincerely, Quarantined Teen.”

“I had welcomed them to use any format they want,” Showalter said. “Some of the most common reactions (to the school closures) were ‘This is not what I expected,’ the difficulty managing time.”

“Many said that all the days seem the same,” Showalter said. “I’m feeling that too.”

At Ferris High School, teacher Katie O’Connor said she has “focused on what has affected them most.”

While some kids didn’t care about canceled proms, one girl fretted that her parents had already spent $500 for a dress.

“She was wondering how she would ever pay them back,” O’Connor said.

North Central High School teacher Mary Fruchter chose to focus on the good things – “the positives that have come out of that experience … but also to write about the things that are happening in their world.”

The COVID-19 Journal Project also embraced younger students. At Sacajawea Middle School, teacher Beth Ankorn said some of her students experienced a “growing confidence.”

“I’m struck by the fact that we’re living in such a historically impactful time,” Ankorn said. “What they are creating will be primary sources or history, during a moment when the human spirit is tested.”

“This is just an effort do something to help kids to see that they’re not alone in this,” Ankorn said.

Below are excerpts from the journal project.

The end of normal

When Gov. Jay Inslee announced that schools in Washington would close for the rest of the academic year, some students cheered. Then reality set in …

“My friend had texted me and I didn’t believe him, so I turned on the TV and there it was: School was done for the year, and at first I was so ecstatic. I mean no more school, who wouldn’t be happy. But then I remembered the seniors and everything they’re missing. Everybody is saying that they’re overreacting and that worse things are happening in the world, but they deserve to be selfish for this.” – Addy Stone, sophomore at Lewis and Clark High School

“Our principal announced on the intercom what was going to happen, and that moment, it was official, and I had never been happier. I was so excited to have no sleep schedule, no homework, no stress, and I was so ready to spend all my time with friends and being able to do whatever I wanted.” – Gracie Struck, freshman at LC

“Of course it was Friday the 13th. … I could not explain what I was feeling even if I tried – I was disappointed and excited, stressed but relieved, but most of all confused. Six weeks seemed so long; how would I survive six weeks without seeing people? Amongst all the confusion, it began to snow and we left for home. Monday would be our last day.” – Lauren Ghrist, sophomore at LC

A remote chance of learning

Kids are adaptable, but they can take only so much. Distance learning has taken a toll on everyone …

“I don’t know how they expect me to learn so much curriculum online without having a mental breakdown at some point, I have trouble learning chemistry with a teacher up in front of the class and I still need her help half the time and now I don’t even have the safety of that, now what? I have 1 to 3 different videos that don’t even help me.” – Addy Stone

“I think that the transition of going to school every weekday to waking up at 9 every day was very hard but easy at the same time. … The only reason I like everything being online is because I took (Spokane Virtual Learning) fitness last year and that was easy for me because it was online. Now I know how to do everything, such as navigating Blackboard, Teams, and Office 365.” – Nolan Stewart, sophomore LC

“During the first week I was going to bed in the morning and waking up at six past noon playing video games and binging TV to distract myself from my losses. Towards the end of the (first) week … my mood had lightened as I had been informed that teachers were not allowed to grade any work. I had decided that it would be a good idea to still complete my work for one because my mom would freak if she found out I didn’t do my work, but also because it was still expected of me and it would be selfish to not do my school work just because I feel like crap when I’m sure that there are others who feel the same.” - Garret Severns, sophomore at LC

“In my last letter I was talking about how hard it is to log on to Teams and that it is the worst app ever. It is still the worst app ever. Yesterday I spent one hour trying to get work off Teams, so I emailed my science teacher. I told her that I could not download the work. My mom and I tried and tried and failed and failed and failed some more. After about half an hour, my brother came to help me. He had to use his college account to help me. But after a while I tried to download it and it didn’t work. I was so angry.” – Isaac McKen, Sacajawea eighth grader

“Online schooling is not my strength at all. I’ve taken a couple of online classes in the past and they were a bit rough because you had to hold yourself accountable and make time for it unlike not having a choice when you’re physically in school and there are a lot less distractions at school unlike at home. So online school hasn’t been my ‘cup of tea,’ but I’m managing one slow sip at a time.” – Mason Boyd, senior at Ferris

The new normal

Along with families and friends, students have been forced to adapt to strange circumstances …

“I work at Sacred Heart Hospital in the Foods and Nutrition Services, so I mainly wash dishes, but I also double check orders to ensure dietary restrictions are followed. It’s work that has changed the most. I went from part-time to full-time just like a flip of a switch because my employer knew I had all this free time on my hands. It was a little bit of an adjustment going from working like 5-hour days to 8-hour days, but it wasn’t terrible … well, at least at first it wasn’t.” – Mason Boyd

“I am starting to ask my parents when this will be over a lot more than I did at the very beginning of this pandemic. I just want life to go back to the way it was before the beginning of this pandemic. … Washington is going through a lot and we are trying to do the best we can to make life go back to normal.” – Nolan Stewart

“Probably one of the best opportunities I’ve had during this time is designing the banners for the softball seniors. I got to design which is what I’m going to school for and it was for a group of girls I love! This season was supposed to be fantastic but in return we got corona, and so we have to make the best out of this crazy situation.” – Chloe Olson, senior at LC


At first it felt like a mini-vacation, a few weeks out of school while this coronavirus gets under control. Then reality hit …

“This time in quarantine has felt like forever, but also the blink of the eye. The days blend together into one big jumble of the new routine. I have had time to reflect on my values in life, and how I am most definitely an extrovert. I maintain social skills by going on social distancing bike rides with my neighbor, and calling my friends every day.” - Lauren Ghrist, sophomore at LC

“By the end of April schools are closed, my girlfriend dumped me and I am not allowed to see either my friends or go to Republic to work for my grandparents. To say the least, something I didn’t care about two months ago and had not even heard of three months ago came unexpectedly and took away my life as it was just starting to get better.” – Garret Severns

“I’ve only seen two of my friends this whole quarantine and that was to do a birthday parade and to drop off a soda one day, but that’s it. I don’t understand how people don’t see how serious this is.” – Addy Stone

Missing out

Kids are missing out on a lot during the pandemic, but mostly they miss their teachers and friends. However, for some, family bonds are becoming tighter …

“I miss being able to go to the movies whenever I wanted with my friends and not have to think about sitting in seats that so many other people have sat in or how close the seats are … I miss the freedom of being able to go over to our family friend’s house whenever I want to. We used to go over there one or more times a week and now it’s just turned into a 4 p.m. ‘happy hour’ Facetime call.” – Addy Stone

“I’ll never be able to look back and tell the stories to my future family about the last day of school or yearbook signings or visiting my elementary school in my cap and gown and that’s really hard for me to think about.” – Natalie Ervin, senior at Ferris


Life will never be the same after COVID-19, but many teens are hopeful that some things will change for the better …

“So, I guess in conclusion I am grieving, more than I thought to be honest, but because of this situation I won’t take sleepovers, late night movies, Saturday hammocking, church, shopping and seeing friends and family for granted anymore.” – Addy Stone

“I can tell stories about waiting two hours in line at Krispy Kreme to get free donuts and talking to my teachers through Zoom calls and how I was strong enough to motivate myself to teach myself math online. How crazy is that?” - Nolan Stewart

“COVID-19 took a lot away from me, but it also brought me closer to my fellow classmates, gave me great stories to tell and ultimately made me a better person and student. Because I’ve had so much time on my hands I started to work out and tone my body, I researched about eating healthier, I took more time to focus on my mental health and began journaling more and organizing and bettering myself. With that being said, Corona virus, you didn’t ruin my senior year; you just took away the fun parts. But that doesn’t stop me from celebrating.” – Natalie Ervin

“Overall the quarantine has made me realize that some relationships in my life could be stronger, that I need to hang out with my family as much as possible, and never take anything for granted.” – Chloe Olson

“A new value of education may arise, from a generation of students who realized how much they missed school, despite their constant complaints. This is possibly “the big event” of our lives, but most likely only a tale to tell our children someday.” – Gracie Struck