Pandemic. PPE. COVID-19. All words that were not commonplace amongst most adults, let alone high schoolers, until early 2020. The events and stories that followed will be written into history books in the years to come, much like the pandemic of 1912. And Gold Award Girl Scout Nicole B. has dedicated the last 12 months to making sure those first-hand accounts are readily available when that time comes. Her project, Documenting History In A Time of Covid-19, which stemmed from an Essay Contest, is a historical account of the impact COVID-19 from the viewpoint of high school students from Coral Gables Senior High School.
Tell us about your project
The project is about the voice of the students, to be heard by the community. COVID-19 changed how we live, almost overnight. This initiative offered a unique opportunity to document the experience from the point of view of high school students during a global pandemic. The essay contest offered a creative outlet as well as an opportunity to document the trials and tribulations of a small group of teenagers during a very unusual time - the time of COVID-19.
What gave you the inspiration for your project?
I needed a way to ensure that the voice of my peers was heard. This project offers a first-hand look into the my experiences and the experiences of my peers living through the first full year of a pandemic. This project is comprised of a compilation of essays and the individual stories woven throughout. The messages found within each are some the most important takeaways.
I am hopeful that other museums, archives, and school districts consider doing a similar program. I’ve shared and am actively pitching the program concept with a few larger historical museums for consideration.
What was the biggest challenge you overcame and how?
My biggest challenge I had to overcome was trying to convince students to enter the contest. The pandemic changed many things but high school deadlines were not one of them. The contest was held in SAT and ACT season, and taking these tests was understandably a priority for a lot of students. Engaging and motivating students to enter was harder than I anticipated. Soliciting students to enter required assistance from teachers and administration as direct communication with students was limited. I had to rely on social media and student and PTSA publications yet the majority of students had absolutely no interest. Ultimately, many teachers, including my history teacher, offered extra credit which helped spike entries. Their support was and still is greatly appreciated.
Why is this project important to you, personally?
This project became a creative outlet for my peers to document their perception of living in a worldwide pandemic. It offered an opportunity to describe their own personal, unique point of view in a very unusual time, for their voice to be heard. I was amazed at the level of creativity of the essays. The essays span the happy and sad from poems to essays to love stories and lessons from the kitchen. The essays are inspiring. My goal is to broaden their availability so others can access them.
One of the entrants, Sophia Leon, wrote, “We can all agree that in the beginning of quarantine our lives changed in one of two ways. Scenario one being extreme motivation to workout, magically becoming Gordon Ramsey in the kitchen, riding on the highway to tik-tok stardom and acing your way through the last quarter of the school year since teachers were being extremely lenient. Scenario two however, was having devastating anxiety, 'Quarantine Depression' and possibly even contracting the virus and becoming sick. Regardless of which scenario you’ve experienced, 2020 has not been an easy year for any of us, including myself.”
The lesson from Sophia and a common theme throughout is perseverance and survival. We all can succeed in a highly unusual time in history and most of us are a mix of Scenario one and Scenario two.
How does this project contribute to your goals for the future?
I learned about project management, planning, financials, implementing, and recording results. I learned how consistent persuasion and persistence assist people to act. I managed, and saw the project from beginning to end. This project made me confident that I can complete large projects that span months. I’m confident these traits will help further my high school career and help with the transition to college.
It turns out, this didn’t only help my goals for the future; it also resulted in significant benefits for all students who entered. It turns out that there were significant benefits for the students who entered. While each student received community service hours for submitting an essay, students can state they have published their work at the state level, as their essays have been filed with the State of Florida Archives. This is a tremendous advantage for these students when applying to college.
What did you learn about your community in this process?
The project was similar to a butterfly’s lifecycle, it took many stages: It started with the sale of masks at a local business, to donations from friends and family. Soliciting community members to judge the contest followed including from the President of the Greater Miami Chamber of Commerce, to former teachers, parents and fellow students. One of the judges insisted on judging the contest even though she had COVID. At first, I think the judges agreed to participate as the contest felt like a good idea and they wanted to support me but ultimately the essays drew them in. The judges wanted to talk about the essays – from the student who didn’t get her quinceañera, but rather her “quarantiñera” or about how students “laughed and believed we would be back to in-person leaning in a max. of three weeks”. This contest became the voice of the students, supported by a caring community. The 25 judges, the teachers, administration, project advisors, and the PTSA provided incredible support.
What Did You Learn About Yourself?
I learned that I could lead a project quietly and from the background and still achieve results. I learned to listen to others’ ideas. I learned to ask for help - the judging platform was tricky to set up. I learned that sometimes you must wait for the end of something to see the results – meaning I was expecting maybe 40 or so entries, and ultimately the contest received 113 entries. It seems like this project picked me.
We're already seeing the impact of Nicole's Gold Award project
This Gold Award Girl Scout has already received high praises from Florida’s Secretary of State, Laurel M. Lee. “The voices and experiences of youth are often underrepresented in government historical records collections, and this collection provides insight into the experiences of high school students during a historic year. Florida's historical records are among the most important resources belonging to the people of Florida.” said Lee.
Florida State Archivist, Beth Golding continued, “The Coral Gables Senior High School student essays significantly contribute(d) to the historical record of the State of Florida. These essays have exceptional historical significance, and we are so very pleased to be able to preserve them as a collection and make them accessible to the public.”
As you might have guessed, Nicole’s project has subsequently been accepted into the State Archives of Florida and we couldn’t be more proud