There is no doubt the Covid-19 pandemic touched the lives of young and old alike. That is why Jamie Shields, a fourth grade teacher at Millis Road Elementary School wanted to give her students an opportunity to express themselves about the changes they experienced during the upheaval of school closings.
“Looking around at my students, I was interested in hearing their perspective of the situation,” Shields said. “I wanted to give them time to reflect on what has been going on and to voice their feelings about it.
“I taught these students in third grade and moved up to fourth grade with them. I was with them when school closed in the spring of 2020 and when it opened in the spring of 2021. I cannot believe how well all of them handled this.”
Shields started a project in March after students returned to in-person learning. She shared with them pictures of children during the polio era listening to their lessons on the radio. As today’s students were learning a bit of history, they realized they also had been making it.
Shields had students write narratives of their experience and take pictures that represented their lives during the pandemic.
Art teacher Tammy Larrick had the students draw self-portraits that included a mask at their neck, which could be folded up to cover the bottom half of their face. She got the idea from an art teacher in Tennessee who had posted it on the internet. Larrick used the project as an opportunity to guide students in the fundamentals of drawing faces.
Ashley Dunford, Millis Road music teacher, created a special song to the tune of “This Little Light of Mine,” which students learned as part of their project.
Shields discussed the completed project with her mother, Teresa Loflin, a former employee of the High Point Museum. The two felt the project would make a great addition to the museum’s summer displays. Shields had formerly volunteered with the museum and her mother connected her with the people who could make the display a reality.
Shields gave all the project pieces to Marian Inabinett, curator of collections at the museum. She crafted them into double-sided triangle signboards featuring pull quotes, likes and dislikes, photos and the self-portraits.
“There was so much to choose from, it was hard to edit it down, Inabinett admitted. “I tried to use a variety of thoughts and feelings and pick some that were unique representations. I found that what the kids expressed was similar to what others thought and felt.”
“The students thought it was the coolest thing ever to have their work highlighted at the museum,” Shields said. “Not only did they have a voice, but they were surprised their work was important enough to be on display.
For Chloe Nishikawa, the best part of the project was writing about the experience. Her favorite part of the quarantine was spending time with her cat, but she really disliked wearing masks. She was glad when she could go back to class at school.
Sam Morton also liked the writing element of the project. The worst part of the pandemic for him was being home all the time.
“You think you would like it,” he said, “but after a while you hate it. I was glad to be back in school and sad it is over.”
All the students’ work premiered at the museum June 5 and will be on display each Saturday until the beginning of the fall semester in August. The signboards will be presented to Millis Road Elementary, where other students at the school, staff and parents can enjoy seeing the former fourth graders creative efforts.