‘No longer my life’: A pandemic through sixth-grade eyes

Madison Middle School teacher Sarah Jones asked her sixth graders to make “memory journals” to detail their experiences during the coronavirus pandemic.

REXBURG — One student-journal entry, dated March 24, 2020, describes a sixth grader’s concern for loved ones during the coronavirus pandemic.

“I don’t want to lose another grandparent because of sickness,” the student wrote. 

An undated entry from around the same time details another student’s longing for friends and school.

“If I told myself during the second trimester that I would be wishing for school, I would have laughed,” the student wrote, adding, “It’s no longer my life.”

Sixth graders in Sarah Jones’ English class at Madison Middle School have been keeping “memory journals” devoted to the coronavirus pandemic. Daily entries provide a glimpse into their thoughts about a virus that last month shuttered their school, disrupted their social lives and prompted lingering uncertainty.

Sarah Jones teaches sixth graders from her home.

“How far will this go, and when will it end?” another student wrote. “Who will find the cure?”

After school closures snowballed last month, it became “undeniably clear” that students were experiencing high levels of stress due to the pandemic, said Jones, who touts the need for more social-emotional learning in K-12.

“It is so crucial to teach in ways that are relevant to students and their lives,” she said.

To help her students cope while stuck at home, Jones created over 60 writing prompts aimed at capturing the “worries, fears and insecurities” kids might feel during a pandemic. Some of the prompts include:

  • What were your initial thoughts about the coronavirus?
  • What is your daily routine now?
  • What emotions are you feeling right now?
  • What have you done to ease your worries?
  • How would you handle the coronavirus for your family?

Stories, pictures and drawings soon filled Jones’ inbox. Last week, she shared dozens of nameless entrees with EdNews.

One sixth grader’s computer sketch of a motorcycle in response to a writing prompt.

While many entrees express a longing to be back with friends in school, others show what kids are doing to pass the time.

“The Corona has changed my life a lot!” one student wrote. “My mom makes me exercise a lot.”

Attempts to be positive often accompany musings on boredom.

“I try to put away my needy thoughts, like wanting to hang out with my friends, and compare them with those who have lost loved ones,” another wrote.

Others were less reserved in expressing frustration.

“I am so sad and angry (sangry?),” one entry reads. “Why did this have to happen?”

Other students noted ubiquitous images of empty toilet paper shelves on the news and social media. Some glued headlines to entrees:

  • March 25: “Live Idaho coronavirus updates: 98 cases confirmed.” “98!!!!!,” one student wrote “Can you believe it?”
  • April 9: “Idaho reporting 1,294 cases of coronavirus, 18 deaths.” A sad face with tears filled space below the headline in the same student’s journal.

Others shared their coping mechanisms. One student’s journal bears a water-color painting of a red flower aimed at “bringing a feeling of ‘calm,’ even though COVID-19 can be an uprooting and unsettling topic for these kids,” Jones said.

One student’s journal cover, a water-color painting aimed at bringing a feeling of calm.

“I’ve been listening to a lot more music,” wrote one student.

Another said classical music and nature sounds — waterfalls, waves, crickets, birds, streams — help.

Another student included a black-and-white picture of a snowman and a pyramid of snow “marshmallows” her family built after an early spring snowfall.

“I wouldn’t want to be a parent during these times,” another student said.

Devin Bodkin

About Devin Bodkin

Reporter Devin Bodkin covers education issues in East Idaho. He is a former high school English teacher who specializes in stories about charter schools and educating students who live in poverty. Devin co-hosts "Beyond the Books" online news segments in conjunction with EastIdahoNews.com. He is a 2019 Solutions Journalism Network fellow. Follow Devin on Twitter @dsbodkin. He can be reached by email at [email protected].

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