I am fortunate to have this opportunity to share my thoughts with all of you. I feel even more grateful during this pandemic that has caused many sources of anxiety. I know I feel it every day in the weight of my responsibilities and decisions as Superintendent. I know our families feel it as they make difficult decisions for their children during the pandemic. In addition, our teachers and staff feel it as they navigate challenges and adjust to teaching in a whole new way.
I know our students feel it too, but when I need a little encouragement, inspiration, or even a little hope for the future, I have to look no further than to some of our talented students.
You can find all those things in the actions of our young people, our Chesapeake Public Schools students.
Serena Kalman, a member of the Hickory High School SCA, has started using podcasts to build school relationships and as a way to connect students and faculty when they can’t all be together in the building at the same time. In September, she interviewed newly-appointed principal Dr. Donna Weingand to foster introductions to all students. Most recently Serena and another student, Trent Kocsis interviewed the Chair of Exceptional Learning at Hickory as a way to recognize and support Disability History and Awareness Month. The podcast is posted on the Hickory SCA Instagram page, a place students frequent for updates on school events and other ways to stay connected and involved with each other.
Student leaders at Western Branch Middle School have a tradition of highlighting something that makes their school community special each year. Even during the pandemic, they were determined to keep the tradition alive – this year through their love and appreciation for music.
They raised the money and once again worked with local artist Myke Irving to celebrate the power of music in connecting people especially during tough times. To unveil their hallway mural design, they held a socially-distanced ribbon-cutting ceremony for faculty, students, and their families.
Nathan Babcock, a junior from Hickory High School, used his love of engineering and 3D printing technology to develop mask connectors that allow you to wear a mask without putting pressure on your ears. Last spring, he delivered them to Chesapeake Regional Medical Center, and this fall, he worked with our Chesapeake Educational Foundation to supply the connectors to our students and staff.
If you still need some more reasons to have faith that our young people will come out stronger on the other side of the adversity they have faced during the pandemic, look no further than David Smith. This senior from Grassfield High School used some of his down time during the pandemic to look for ways to expand his knowledge of African-American history and to share it with others. Though a non-profit he created, Smith now collaborates with students at other high schools through regular virtual meetings. They are currently collaborating through a book study using a book written by a local author. In addition, they invite guest speakers to their meetings with the hopes that these experiences will help them create a positive mindset for the future by learning about the past.
One day, our students will look back and realize that they lived through history. For Natalia Nelson, a Great Bridge High School sophomore, she recognized that she could use her artistic talent to preserve history for the families of victims of COVID-19. Nelson and her mother set up a Facebook page and an email address families can use to submit a picture and request one of Natalie’s free digital portraits. When asked what inspired her to help others during their time of grief, Natalia said, “Just knowing that I’ve maybe made someone’s day better and made them smile…it just makes me happy.”
I hope these inspirational young people inspire hope in you as much as they do in me. I’m proud of all the accomplishments of our students – both big and small, and I am grateful for the unique perspectives they provide. We are fortunate to have students in Chesapeake who are making such a positive difference in our community. Indeed, our future is bright!