For GEAR UP 4 LA student Ashley Pineda, the COVID-19 pandemic meant she would celebrate the end of her middle school journey with a virtual eighth-grade culmination ceremony, without friends by her side or the in-person gathering for which she had hoped.
“I wanted to have the opportunity to see them again,” Ashley said. “There was anxiety and a feeling that we did not leave middle school the correct and complete way in order to make a new transition into our new life called high school.”
Ashley’s story of living through a worldwide pandemic was captured in “Pandemic Perspectives,” a collection of inspiring personal narratives written by GEAR UP students and educators.
“I was able to be part of a story,” said Ashley, who now attends Huntington Park High School. “The pandemic was a challenge, but I also see it as a motivation. Even though it’s a world crisis, we were able to accomplish something great.”
The “Pandemic Perspectives” project was held in collaboration with PLUS ME Project to provide a safe space for students to pen their stories and have their voices heard. Students and GEAR UP staff participated in several workshops in which they reflected on moments from the pandemic that impacted them and wrote their tales. The book took two years to develop.
“The ‘Pandemic Perspective’ collects students’ feelings and experiences in an extraordinary time,” GU4LA Project Director Lois Bramwell said. “It’s as much a shared diary as it is a time capsule.”
Contributors were celebrated during the virtual launch of the book on Feb. 24, which included a panel of featured GEAR UP writers who read their stories, reflected on how their stories have grown since, and took questions from the audience.
Site Coordinator Dr. Monique Ohashi shared her story of working from home while tending to her young children – who were also home – and working to ensure a better quality of life for her family.
“We learned that staying positive, focusing on what we can do, and making some creative adjustments to our lifestyle allowed us to appreciate one another and persevere during these challenging, unprecedented times,” she wrote.
Meanwhile, Marquez High School GU4LA student Giselle Pena Velasco shared her story of working in summer 2020 as a volunteer, packing up food boxes at the YMCA for families in need.
“The times I was able to open the trunk of their cars and see them look back at me with relief that they now have food for them and their kids was amazing and rewarding,” she wrote. “I have never felt so proud of myself.”
Caroline Vargas, a GU4LA student at Santee Education Complex, thanked GEAR UP and PLUS ME for the opportunity to share her experience.
“I am very lucky to have had this chance to share my story and educate people on how the pandemic and other events have impacted us,” she wrote.
“Pandemic Perspectives” is available for download here.