The Power of Words in a Time of Silence

Quiet streets. Eyes glued to the news.  Imagine a world where you can’t be around other people outside of your own family. Imagine a world where you can not rely on friends and family to get you through life. This imagined world became reality in the year 2020. And when people couldn’t be in community together, they sought literacy avenues to get them through. As time slowed, people began to read the books that had been collecting dust on their shelves. People listened to podcasts, wrote in gratitude journals, and spoke to each other through video messaging. People used their words to post on social media and speak up about topics important to them. The power of literacy provided community when in-person meetings were not available.

This power was recently harnessed through a family literacy event hosted in a local school district by 3 teachers in various schools. Educators in the Panda Fellows National Writing Project decided to use grant money provided to them to motivate their students to use literacy as a reflection tool with their families as well as support a local independent bookstore. Students with their families were given the prompt, “COVID didn’t cancel community in my life because…” and then had to reflect in writing and/or video response to the prompt. If a student participated, they were eligible to receive a $15 gift card from the local downtown bookstore, Bobzbay.

Multiple students in our district along with their families were able to reflect through writing or speaking about community in the time of covid. Many students mentioned that quarantine actually gave them more time with their family members. Another student wrote that quarantine granted them gratitude for when they were able to be back in person with their friends at school. Yet another student reported that they got to learn about their family’s culture in the kitchen and learn how to make specific dishes from their family.

We are hoping that many families will visit the local book store to further support literacy in their families. Any money left over from this grant that is not used toward participating students’ gift cards will be used toward books for the participating teachers’ classrooms.

While this was a difficult school year, as teachers participating in this program, we learned that we can still involve families in helping their students develop literacy skills and sharpen these strengths virtually. Of course, gift cards to bookstores are a wonderful motivator and we are extremely thankful to the grant provided through the National Writing Project Panda Fellowship.

Speaking, reading, writing, and listening to others is the way that we as humans connect, regardless of whether we are in person or not. In a time when the world became eerily silent, words gave us the control that we were lacking. Now that our corner of the world is mostly back to “normal”, we still hope that students and their families will continue to rely on the power of literacy in their communities to connect and build a better world.


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