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'We'll Get Through This': One 11-Year-Old's Take On Coronavirus

A young person sits at a dining room table with a computer.

Governor Phil Scott ordered the closure of all Vermont schools as of last Wednesday, in an effort to slow the spread of COVID-19. Erica Heilman checked in with a young friend in central Vermont to see how this new arrangement was working out.  

Emmaline Caswell is 11. She lives in Randolph, Vermont. I met her over the summer when I was making a show about the Randolph summer musical, and she sang for me. I called her up to find out how school from home was going, and I asked her if she’d sing for me again, except this time while she was at her house and I was at mine.  

Emmaline’s father: “Emmaline’s right here. You want her?”  

Emmaline: “Hi.” 

Me: “Hey Emmaline. I don’t talk on the phone all that much. Do you talk on the phone a lot?” 

Emmaline: “No, not really.” 

Me: “Yeah."

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Homeschooled sort of thing

Me: "Well tell me what it feels like to be you right now.”  

Emmaline: “So, we kinda got homeschooled sort of thing? So, we’re like, stuck at home, and our parents are kind of having to help us with our schoolwork, but our teachers finally kinda got us online sort of stuff? So, they’re still giving us work from their books, so our parents aren’t giving us work. But it’s really weird, because I was like, ‘Oh! Homeschooling’s gonna be great!’ ‘Cause usually in school I’m really bored. But homeschooling isn’t cracked up to what I thought it was going to be.”   

Me: “Yeah.”  

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Emmaline: “My teachers are awesome. I love all my teachers. And they always make all my classes fun. And my parents try to do that too, but they can’t, because they also have to work while they’re working with us. So I’d rather be at school than in my house sitting at the dining room table.” 

Me: “How’s everybody getting along at home, because it’s hard to be with each other all the time.”  

Emmaline: “Yeah. It definitely is. My little brother and I sometimes don’t get along a lot, which can sometimes be a problem. But I think ever since we started homeschooling, which is actually only Wednesday, John and I have gotten along better.”  

This is happening

Me: “Yeah. Let me ask you a question. What is – what’s a virus?”  

Emmaline: “Um, like a virus is something that kind of spreads I’m pretty sure? The coronavirus—it’s spreading a lot so I feel like that’s one of the things that a virus does. My parents thought that this would never happen. They thought that this was impossible, like school was never going to close down, like this would never happen. Well, it’s happening right now. And people that are 30 and 20—they’re not gonna die from it honestly. It’s people I’m pretty sure over 70 that are dying from it. But I go to a church in our town and there’s a lot of elderly people there. So I’m worried about the elderly people that have lung cancer or lung diseases or just have lung problems."

Emmaline, continued: "And there are some people—they probably can’t wash their hands because they don’t have soap. And a lot of people are taking stuff for themselves. I heard a story from an adult that I know, and she said that two guys went in a fist fight over,  I think it was the last paper towels or something. And my dad went to the store to get Clorox wipes. There were no Clorox wipes. There was no paper towels. There was no toilet paper.” 

Me: “Are you worried about toilet paper for yourself?”  

Emmaline: “No! We have a whole shelf. The top shelf has toilet paper and the bottom shelf has some toilet paper. But there’s just a lot of things that are surprising about this virus.”  

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Singing through a hard time

Me: “You know it’s funny because none of us—and I’m wicked old, and I’ve never been through anything like this. So in a way, we’re all in the same boat. When we talked, it was during the musical when we talked before. I asked you what it was like when you were singing. I don’t know, what did you say?”  

Emmaline: “I’m pretty sure I said, ‘It makes me feel better when I’m going through a hard time or if like, I need to sing and I need to let something go.’ So my dad, he has a Broadway playlist on his phone, and he plays it in his truck a lot. And I’ve memorized almost every single song in that playlist.”  

Me: “What are some of the ones you think are useful right now?”  

Emmaline: “Um, well I did have one prepared in case you wanted me to sing, and it’s from Annie. It’s called ‘Tomorrow.’ I only have a little bit I don’t have the whole song, but …”

Me: “Lay it on me.”  

Emmaline, singing:  

The sun’ll come out, tomorrow. Bet your bottom dollar that tomorrow, there’ll be sun.  

Just thinkin’ about tomorrow, clears away the cobwebs and the sorrow, ‘til there’s none. 

When I’m stuck with a day that’s gray and lonely… 

Me: “Is there anything else you want people to know?” 

Emmaline: “I’d probably say you have to stay safe. And it’ll all be over soon. I’ll be able to go back to school. You’ll probably be able to go back to work. You’ll get through this, and I think that we’ll get through this.” 

Emmaline, singing:  

I love ya tomorrow. It’s only a day away.

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