Editor’s note: Last fall, not long after school had opened for the year, we received a letter from Nancy Nickerson’s fourth grade class at Capt. Albert Stevens school asking us to publish some of their stories about what it was like to go to school during the pandemic. We agreed, and so began the series we called “COVID Classroom.” Somewhat to our surprise, the students continued to send stories through the fall, into winter and then spring. We ran 13 articles in all, each one reported, written and edited by students.

For the final piece in the series, the class asked us to interview them. The result, below, does not follow the students’ practice of presenting first a question and then the interviewee’s answer. Because we were interviewing a whole class, the story is more an impression of the students’ responses than an exact rendering.

We are grateful to Mrs. Nickerson and her class for inviting us to be part of their newspaper project. It has been a joy.

BELFAST — The fourth grade class at Capt. Albert Stevens School taught by Nancy Nickerson, like nearly all schoolchildren around the globe, have had an unusual year filled with losses and challenges. They have also gained something precious, as they told The Republican Journal in a video interview June 4: they have become, in the words of one student, “a class family.”

During the interview, Nickerson said she got the idea for a class newspaper from one of the students who had kept a blog when he was in third grade to which other students contributed. That student, Eliot Fowler, both wrote and edited stories for the paper.

Nearly all the students said putting out their class newspaper, The COVID Chronicle, was among the most memorable aspects of the past year. They experienced many of the things professional journalists do: they gained confidence from learning to write better, learned to communicate well with their peers and to rely on them, honed time management skills, put themselves in their subjects’ shoes to craft good interview questions and took pleasure from doing interviews and seeing their finished work in print.

After Nickerson’s class started their paper, the teacher told us, Principal Glen Widmer asked them to distribute it to the entire school, and another, larger enterprise was born: The CASS Times, published monthly through the principal’s office.

While it also contained news articles, puzzles,opinion pieces, recipes and more, interviews with CASS teachers and staff were highlighted in the paper. Students talked to a cafeteria worker, music, art and gym teachers, the school librarian, the nurse, the principal, a teacher with triplets in her class and many others. Nickerson was their staff photographer.

Students hold up letters spelling “COVID Classroom,” the name of their series of stories that ran in The Republican Journal. Courtesy of Nancy Nickerson

Many of the interviews appeared in The Journal, and later some of them were picked up by Penobscot Bay Pilot and Bangor Daily News as well. Students said they were surprised and thrilled at how their project took off and attracted an audience far beyond their own classroom.

Among the things students said they had learned from putting out their paper were that “It (putting out a newspaper) is not easy, but you get better going on. … Every article helps us learn,” and “(You have to) think deeply about your writing to make it interesting for the readers.” This pandemic year also taught them more general lessons: Friends are still friends even when you only get to see them on Zoom, extraordinary circumstances demand flexibility and adaptation, and don’t forget to include your thumbs when you wash your hands.

Many of the students expressed their appreciation and affection for Nickerson, talking about funny things she did, like bringing in a board 6 feet long to give them a clearer sense of how far apart they should stay to reduce their chance of being infected with COVID-19. The teacher seemed to return their sentiments in full measure.

The kids were also nearly unanimous in saying that both the difficulties brought on by the public health crisis and the shared enterprise of the newspaper brought them closer together, forming bonds that will not soon be broken.

Eliot summed up his classmates’ thoughts when he said, “I felt like the newspaper was really an amazing thing to do … . I especially enjoyed doing it with this group of classmates because it really turned the year less dark.”

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