Founder’s Note: One Year Later

March 10, 2021

SRL began #MoraleFriday in March 2020. This is from July 31, four and a half
months after the offices shut down. Can you guess the theme?


Team SRL Reflects on the Pandemic One Year Later

Unbelievably, this week marks an entire year since Student Reporting Labs started to work from home and SRL students and teachers entered the uncharted territory known as remote learning. Over the course of the year, we experienced students recording first drafts of history in real time (April 2020); exhaustion, trauma and grief (July 2020); Gen Z and the election tipping point (October 2020); and programming innovations that will take SRL in new directions in 2021 (January 2021).

To mark the anniversary of the pandemic, I asked the amazing SRL team to answer our own One Year Later Rapid Response. This incredible group has worked so hard and demonstrated such creativity, passion, understanding and kindness, and I am eternally grateful. I hope you enjoy this as much as I did and feel connected to our unique and common experiences of the past year.

We invite YOU and our entire community to write your reflections in our Padlet online forum here.

Everything changed in 2020. What are the changes that affected you the most and why? 

  • What affected me the most during the pandemic shutdown early in 2020 was having all of my three elementary school-aged children at home. From connection problems to not understanding what assignments needed to be done, my children really suffered and cried many times due to the frustrations distance learning caused in our family. – Victor Fernandez, senior youth media producer

  • The shift to online learning as a college student has been tough. I’ve always loved learning and school, as nerdy as that sounds. But online learning makes me feel both overwhelmed with my workload and like I’m still not learning anything at all. It makes me sad to think about the person I was a year ago, because she had a lot more ambition and passion for what she was doing. Struggling to find motivation for a career and major that I used to love has left me feeling lost. – Grace Vitaglione, spring intern

  • With everything understandably locked down, as a gregarious person I was used to meeting with friends almost everyday and family regularly. Humans are first and foremost social, so it’s been incredibly hard to not meet in person and have those 3-Dimensional connections. – Marcus Markle, communications manager

  • I became a parent in 2020 and felt the restrictions of COVID acutely. Not being able to host visitors has been hard, especially because my husband and I had recently moved to a new city. We don’t have friends here to pod with, so we’ve been super isolated, with the added challenge of becoming parents. And it’s hard in normal times, so I hear, to keep your sense of self when you have a kid. It’s even harder when you can’t do anything—can’t go get a haircut or manicure to feel like a person again, or join a mommy and me class, or hire a babysitter and go out for a date night. – Emily Tkaczibson, grant officer

  • When the world shut down in March 2020 my son’s daycare closed. For a while, it was very challenging to manage childcare while my husband and I tried to work from home. A few months later, we joined a pandemic pod with two other families and a retired teacher. She’s now teaching and caring for our four young kids. I am so grateful for having supportive neighbors and friends and the ability to form this new kind of little family. – Marie Cusick, youth media producer

  • When the pandemic started in the U.S. I was on maternity leave, taking care of my 5-week-old baby. In some ways—at home all day living in loungewear—I was prepared for lockdown. But then my older son’s school closed and now I had to take care of a 4 year-old and a newborn. My relatives and friends couldn’t visit as planned. Nothing happened as planned. Our plans were simply—but challengingly—prepare and eat meals and get outside whenever the baby wasn’t napping. I was sad it wasn’t the maternity leave I had imagined. But also grateful for two friends who joined our pod and that my husband had time off to take care of the kids when I went back to work. I know our situation was much more fortunate than many people’s. – Briget Ganske, youth media producer
  • I’m close with many of my friends children, who range in age from 3 to 15. I love seeing them at synagogue, at social events, and playing with them with my toddler son, telling them stories about monsters and wizards and armies of robots. Now I don’t see them often, and they only see my son occasionally too. – Eli Kintisch, youth media producer
  • This is a hard one. If you ask anyone who knows me, they would talk about how COVID impacted my wedding. Did you know I’ve had five different wedding dates in one year (lol)? That rite of passage has been difficult to manage, but one of the biggest things that changed for me personally was my relationship with my parents. They are part of my bubble and I got to stay with them for extended periods of time because of WFH (working from home), and now, I call my mom every single day. I’ve reconnected with them in ways I never imagined. – Elis Estrada, senior director

How are you different as a person from a year ago? What are some lessons you’ve learned during the pandemic that will be helpful to you going forward?

  • I believe that I’ve dug deeper into my well of gratitude. So many of our family members, friends, and neighbors have lost loved ones, livelihoods and so much more as a result of the lockdowns and the virus itself. Going forward, my hope is that I keep that sense of privilege dear to me, and use it to remind others of how those of us who were able to overcome the obstacles are fortunate compared to others. – Marcus Markle, communications manager

  • I am more aware and educated about the issue of racism and systemic racism. I am even more grateful for family and for what I have. Some lessons I’ve learned are to not take family for granted and that the world is always changing. – Jaylah Moore-Ross, production assistant

  • I think I’ve really appreciated people’s humanity under their masks. I thank public servants and frontline workers whenever I can now and appreciate the doctors nurses and really anyone who’s been out there while the rest of us have been lucky enough to be hunkered down at home. – Eli Kintisch, youth media producer

  • I’ve learned (or am still learning) how to be prepared for things not to go the way I imagine or expect, how things will not to be perfect no matter how much I want them to be, how the apartment will be messy no matter how often we clean, how to be empathetic towards my children even when their tantrums seem silly or completely irrational, that kids are irrational, how to give myself some slack, how to notice other people at the grocery store. – Briget Ganske, youth media producer

  • I’ve become so much less hesitant to check in on friends I haven’t talked to in a while and open a door to reconnect. We’re all isolated, we’re all trying to reach for each other, so it’s been a great time to hear from old friends and send a random text like, “hey, how are you?” or “I know we haven’t talked in months, but I saw this meme and it reminded me of you.” I think keeping that spirit will be good even when we are able to see people in real life again. – Emily Tkaczibson, grant officer

  • I’ve always been the type of person that likes to stay home, have a night in whenever possible. This pandemic made me crave human interaction, something that shocked my introverted self. I needed to see others, to leave the house, to explore what was going on outside the confines of my house. I definitely appreciate community and social events way more now. – Rawan Elbaba, digital producer

  • I’m a lot more cynical and anxious than who I was a year ago, but those challenges have also led to a lot of growth. I finally took the first step in addressing my struggles with mental health and took a lot of time to reflect on myself and who I want to be. This year also taught me how crucial it is to find any source of happiness in your life and be fiercely grateful for it, as often as possible. – Grace Vitaglione, spring intern

  • I’ve realized I’m okay with a slower life and that being busy doesn’t define me. I love to travel, explore, and meet new people, but I also love being at home. I live in central Pennsylvania surrounded by farmland—Amish country. Years ago, I saw a PBS documentary about the Amish, and I remember a person saying how people often focus on everything the Amish give up when they reject modern conveniences, but those same people don’t reflect on what they, themselves are giving up when they accept all of those things. That comment stuck with me. I’ve not adopted an Amish way of life, of course, but my life is a lot slower and closer to home. I hardly drive anymore, and I see the same few people most days. I’ve thought about what I gave up, back when I ran around a lot more, and my life had more action and distraction. – Marie Cusick, youth media producer

  • Patience and more patience. I think we are all having a battle in our minds between what we need and what we want. We would like to take vacations, travel, go out, have dinner at a restaurant, and go back to our normal lives. But, at the same time we want to keep our families safe and take the necessary precautions. – Victor Fernandez, senior youth media producer

  • I’ve tried really hard to start living in the moment. You could consider it a mindfulness habit. Instead of feeling desperate to get to the end of a long work day or week, I try to appreciate and acknowledge those hard moments during the day, as well as the moments that bring me joy. It’s really (freaking) hard, but it helps me build resilience. – Elis Estrada, senior director

Has COVID changed your mind about what you want to do when you get older? If so, how?

  • No, COVID has reconfirmed the importance of documenting and telling stories. – Jaylah Moore-Ross, production assistant

  • I certainly think that scores of people the world over will need help in the years to come. We need drastic changes and supports to our family, friends, and neighbors who suffered profound loss and have encountered newfound or exacerbated hardships as a result of the pandemic. Because I’ve always been drawn to education as a great equalizer, I must work harder to ensure that we help our fellow citizens of the world. – Marcus Markle, communications manager

  • The opportunity to help teenagers work through difficult psychological issues through media has been gratifying and maybe career changing! – Eli Kintisch, youth media producer

  • I often wonder about where I can do the most good, and right now, it’s raising money to support education initiatives I believe in. But COVID has encouraged me to think beyond the scope of my “job” in terms of “what I want to do.” I donate more of my time and I’m more excited to engage in my local community as an artist and activist. – Emily Tkaczibson, grant officer

  • That’s something I’m still trying to figure out. I loved being a student journalist before the pandemic, and I had a lot more faith in my abilities then. But I’ve learned a lot more about the systemic racism and exploitation present in this field, and now my view of it is less rose-colored. Despite that, there are moments where I remember why I fell in love with this job; when someone shares a powerful story with me, when I surprise myself by learning a new skill and when I get to laugh with a stranger over the phone. Now that we’re more isolated than ever, it’s a pretty cool thing to connect with people. – Grace Vitaglione, spring intern

  • At some point in 2020, I watched an interview with RuPaul (yes, the Queen of Drag) and he said something that really stuck with me. I’m paraphrasing but it was along the lines of, when the universe gives you signs, pay attention. I’m definitely paying attention now. I’ve stopped believing in traditional career trajectories and found comfort in working hard, doing what I love, and being OK with still figuring things out.  – Elis Estrada, senior director

What do you think adults don’t understand about what it’s like to be a teenager living through a pandemic? What do you wish they could change or fix?

  • For me, a lot of adults don’t seem to get the level of disillusionment that my peers and I are feeling. So many people in my generation have lost a lot of hope for the future, and it’s hard not to feel like this will last forever. I think this time will leave a permanent mark on all of us. I wish more adults would recognize the impacts of this time beyond school or work, and try to make young people feel a little more heard instead of dismissing their concerns as just complaining. – Grace Vitaglione, spring intern

  • As a former teenager, I can only say that that time in life is hard enough, without a pandemic. I really feel for what young people are going through. It’s a time in life when you’re really focused on friends, creating your own identity, and figuring out how to start adulthood, and to have that all put on pause or severely disrupted has got to be so hard. As a current adult, I get frustrated by the way our culture tends to marginalize both young people and older people—just look at all the arguments about what’s best for managing the pandemic in schools and senior living or nursing care institutions—those discussions often leave out the people who are most directly impacted. – Marie Cusick, youth media producer

  • I think there’s a lot that’s difficult for adults to comprehend about a year of lost social interaction and learning experiences for teens and young people—whether a high school senior or a 3rd grader. Adults for the most part have developed coping strategies to work through the hardships brought on by the pandemic. There will be a desire to get back to “normal”, but many teens and young people have experienced a collective trauma. That said, I know adults can commiserate, especially parents or educators, who know how important connection is to people who can be affected by a sense of isolation. – Marcus Markle, communications manager

Have you lost a friend or family member to COVID? If so, and you want to share, tell us who you lost and one thing you really miss about them.

  • My husband’s grandma Beatrice died of COVID in June 2020, one month shy of her 105th birthday. It seems like it takes a special kind of person to live that long—not just good genes, fine physical health, and lots of luck, but also a talent for solitude and a capacity to endure loss. I will miss the way her eyes lit up when visitors came into her nursing home room. – Briget Ganske, youth media producer

  • One of the things we forget with the loss of family members, friends, and other loved ones during the pandemic, is those that haven’t gone because of the virus itself, but because the world is locked down and our loved ones couldn’t get the care they may have needed otherwise. I remember all we’ve lost not just to coronavirus, but those we lost in related ways, like those in Houston during the freeze or others who were afraid to visit the hospital. – Marcus Markle, communications manager

  • I haven’t lost anyone to COVID, but my family has experienced a couple of losses during the pandemic. There are plenty of articles out there saying this more eloquently, but it’s hard to mourn in a pandemic, and it’s hard to have missed the chance to say goodbye. It’s COVID times; you can’t hop on a plane because grandpa’s on the decline. You can’t travel across the country to be with your family. It’s hard. – Emily Tkaczibson, grant officer

  • I’ve not lost anyone to COVID, and I feel very lucky. It is hard to feel stuck at home and see the pandemic affect people so differently. I feel like I’m in the eye of a hurricane—like the lyrics from the musical Hamilton where “there is quiet, just for a moment.” It’s hard to sit still when the world is churning around me so much. I feel powerless sometimes, but I am trying to accept that my role right now is to stay put.- Marie Cusick, youth media producer
  • My dad died of COVID complications in February. He was my model of doing work that you love—that you feel called to do. He taught me to read a map, plan a trip and be prepared to change a tire. My parents moved to D.C. four years ago to be near my sister and me, and their grandchildren. When the pandemic began, we created a Sunday tradition of meeting at Candy Cane field where we could be together apart. My dad loved being at the park and watching our dog run and play. He grew up in Queens, NY and families didn’t have pets. To see him become a dog person in his 80s was priceless. – Leah Clapman, founder

Finish this sentence:
When the pandemic is over, I can’t wait to…

  • Marcus: Commune, gather, connect…

  • Eli: Again work with amazing SRL students to make meaningful media in person!

  • Emily: …have everyone I’ve ever loved come visit and meet my daughter.

  • Marie: hug my family members in Massachusetts, who I haven’t seen in over a year.

  • Rawan: ..have a big gathering with all of our family and friends with a spread of delicious food.

  • Grace: Not be scared of people anymore!

  • Briget: …watch people in an airport terminal on my way to a faraway place.

  • Jaylah: have human interaction, work on stories in person, and vacation!

  • Victor: Go back to work!  I want to visit the office and see all of my coworkers, I want to go to schools and work with students “in person”.

  • Elis: In no particular order…see my co-workers in person, visit students and teachers again, finally have my wedding that’s been rescheduled a million times and go on a honeymoon far, far away.

  • Leah: stroll through a music and food festival on a warm summer evening. Oh… and dance at a wedding!!

Leah Clapman created Student Reporting Labs in 2009 as an experiment to engage middle and high school students with current events and reimagine public media for tweens and teens. Under her leadership, SRL has grown from 6 pilot sites to 165 schools in 48 states with partnerships extending from major media and online platforms to international education and youth initiatives.