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Listening In Class: Winooski Students Conduct Interviews About COVID Year

young people in a photo collage
Images: Courtesy
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Collage: Elodie Reed / VPR
Winooski Middle High School students recorded community members talking about the past year for a school assignment. Among them were Don Kiputa, top right, Ayush Pradhan, lower right, and Ta Ray Pe Say.

 

It's no secret that this past pandemic year, students, teachers and school staff have experienced an extraordinary amount of change: the national reckoning on race, the presidential election, added to the normal challenges of navigating teenage life. And at Winooski Middle High School, some 60 students made a podcast about it.

The podcast, titled "Storytelling in a Pandemic," was the brainchild of teacher Caitlin MacLeod-Bluver and other staff at Winooski Middle High School.

"As the teachers and I were kind of reflecting on what the end of the year would look like, we really wanted to recognize that this is a pretty unique moment in time," MacLeod-Bluver said. "And to just kind of continue business as usual, or what we had planned, didn't seem quite right for May 2021."

After more than a year with the pandemic as the background to their lives, MacLeod-Bluver said recording interviews gave students a way to capture this specific moment in time.

"So we really wanted to give students a moment to really reflect on their own experience as well as you know, really start to listen to their friends, community members, family members, about what this past year has been like for them," she said.

"So we really wanted to give students a moment to really reflect on their own experience as well as you know, really start to listen to their friends, community members, family members about what this past year has been like for them." — Caitlin Macleod-Bluver, Winooski Middle High School

The process began in April and ran right up until the final days of school in June. And the finished assignment even had some editing and production help from Vermont Folklife Center.

"It’s so amazing Vermont Folklife Center helped us put together a podcast," MacLeod-Bluver said. "So we have snippets of almost every student's voice in our podcast, and students were so impressed. I mean, it sounds like an official podcast! They loved it. And then we also compiled all of students' interviews or projects or stories into an official book, and we had a little publication celebration on one of the last days of school."

Armed with their assignments and recording equipment, the students fanned out into the community. Winooski High School student Ta Ray Pe Say interviewed Ann, who works at both Tiny Thai and Asiana Noodle House in Winooski.

"When I interviewed Ann, she's so honest to share her story with me," Pe Say said. "And she's so comfortable. Maybe she believe and trust me to share her story with, and that made me feel so great, because I didn't feel nervous or worry about my questions."

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Student Don Kiputa interviewed the school's principal, asking, "What do you think you remember the most about the past year?"

Principal Jean Berthiaume said: "I've just enjoyed getting to know some students and teachers a little differently than I would have probably otherwise been able to get to know them."

"When I was interviewing him, yeah, he told me that he lost both of his parent," Kiputa said. "I was shocked! How can you lose both of your parent and you're still strong. And he has been strong and encouraging us to believe in ourselves and just continue with our work, and never to give up. No matter what."

Student Ayush Pradhan called on a close friend. And they chatted about the past year and its challenges. He spoke with Milan Magar, who was a freshman at Champlain College in Burlington.

"What surprised me was how hard time he had over the pandemic, since he couldn't go to school a lot, and he was online," Pradhan said. "And he said he's better learning when he's face to face with people. And I felt that. I'm the same as him. Since like, I learn very well when I talk with teachers, since I can get more help than online."

"I've been given the opportunity to understand the people that I'm interviewing. Also, to express my view, based on the questions that I have to ask the person." — Don Kiputa, Winooski Middle High School student

Overwhelmingly, the students said the people they interviewed talked about hoping to be together again soon.

"The hope and future for the person I interviewed, he wants like, college to go back to normal and wants to make friends, because he is freshman in college, and you look forward to having friends and teachers and others," Pradhan said.

Kiputa added: "Having people learning in-person, 'cause he love being with people, and he can't wait for next year."

And Pe Say said: "Like, she want to open her own business, like open a bar, cafe. And she says she wants to try to incorporate some safety guideline, because pandemics can happen at any time. She says she want to do more new guideline about the safety, and she says she want to focus on her dream to open the business."

Kiputa said he felt grateful for this project.

"I’ve been given the opportunity to understand the people that I'm interviewing," he said. "Also, to express my view, based on the questions that I have to ask the person."

According to MacLeod-Bluver, it's important to pause and listen to students.  

"I think I try to ground my teaching in, how can we amplify student voice and let that lead the conversation?" she said. "And I think this was a great opportunity for students to really feel like published authors, and to really have their voices heard."

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