Back in September I had an email from a fourth grade class at Capt. Albert Stevens School in Belfast. The kids got right to the point: "We would like you to read our letter and article and add it to your next publication," they wrote.

Accompanying the email was a letter that explained further what they had in mind. "We are hoping you would be willing to publish a few articles, each month, that we have written in our class, describing a sort of 'day in the life' of fourth grade students who are going to school this year wearing masks, being reminded of social distancing, and still having fun and learning new things."

They also included an interview with CASS Principal Glen Widmer that took place when he visited their classroom. It later turned out that these students had started a class newspaper, which they called "The COVID Chronicle."

I was impressed with their initiative, and thought readers might enjoy the perspective of younger writers, so I said yes to publishing some of their stories. Since then our series "COVID Classroom" has appeared every three weeks, garnering a large following online.

After a few outings, I began to get curious about how much help the kids were getting, and I wrote to their teacher, Nancy Nickerson, to ask if she was coaching them. Not really, she said. The writers came up with their own interview subjects and questions. After a student did a story — most of them have been interviews with various members of the school's staff — she would have other students in the class edit it. "The kids are totally into this," Nancy said.

The students have displayed many of the qualities needed to be a good reporter: curiosity, ability to ask questions that draw the subject out and an understanding of the difference between facts and opinion. Their stories show they have the imagination to put themselves in their subjects' shoes, and are focused on what it's like for the adults around them to provide a safe, educational and nurturing environment in the midst of a pandemic.

The interview form works to the young reporters' advantage, because at least half the story — the interviewee's half — is quotations. And their own half, the questions, is prepared ahead of time. But it gets the students thinking about what the lives of the adults in the school are like and gives them the chance to have a conversation in which they are equal participants. The adults who have been interviewed have been wonderfully forthcoming and cooperative, giving a real picture of the adjustments they've had to make in the face of the virus, and also a sense of the satisfaction they feel from doing it.

This is all a far cry from my own fourth grade experience, which began in the fall President Kennedy was shot. Back then, I don't think adults would have trusted us to put out a newspaper on our own; nor did we imagine we could do such a thing. The experience of children was not valued in the way CASS seems to value its students' experience, and their thoughts were not taken seriously. I hope the change leads these students to be more confident than I was at their age.

The class and I have had a couple of sessions via video chat; one where I talked a little bit about reporting, and another where we talked about, and shared, poetry. This is a lively, engaged group of 9-year-olds, and it has been a treat for me to have a relationship with them and their teacher this year.

Still to come, in addition to more stories, are a video chat poetry slam later this month, and in June I'm going to interview the class and contribute a piece to The COVID Chronicle. I hope our connection has been as enjoyable for the students in Mrs. Nickerson's class as it has been for me.

Sarah E. Reynolds is editor of The Republican Journal.