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MOUNT VERNON — To the doctors, nurses and others who have continued to work during the COVID-19 pandemic, Mount Vernon High School students have a message: Thank you.

“You might be scared of getting sick or getting your family sick because every day you help and meet new people that you never met or have no idea where or who they have been around, that’s why your job is very important,” one high school student wrote for a recent class project.

In the early weeks of the global health crisis, teacher Chalen Kelly came up with a way to not only help her students grapple with their new realities, but to recognize those on the front lines of the pandemic.

The idea for the assignment, she said, came after talking with some friends. While Kelly was no longer in the classroom because of the statewide closure of schools, friends were still out working.

“I heard from several friends (about) what their lives were like going to work,” Kelly said. “They were stressed and going through a lot of fear because people aren’t always acting in normal ways.”

Students were given the assignment during the first few weeks of the schools closure — when completion of assignments was optional, Kelly said.

Still, more than 40 juniors and sophomores in Kelly’s classes wrote letters of thanks to staff at local retirement centers and to other health care workers.

“I’m grateful how you treat anybody without discriminating race, age, or any other differences we might have.”

“We are healthy because of you!”

“Nurse is just another word to describe a person strong enough to tolerate everything and soft enough to understand everyone.”

”This one is for the doctors, and nurses, or anybody in this field of work, you are represented in my mind as a soldier, in a war. That doesn’t give up, even knowing they could get hurt doing this.”

Other letters thanked essential workers such as police, grocery store and postal employees, and some thanked the school district and its employees for their work to make sure students still have food during the school closure.

”During lunch I take my little brother to the nearby school to get the lunches they provide.”

”Those school lunches help those kids who need to eat and save their energy, not to break down because we are trapped, isolating ourselves but pray and help others and spend time with our families.”

The letters are supportive, heartfelt and at times funny, which Kelly said speaks to the writing styles of her students.

“It shows that they’re learning to grow as writers,” she said. “They’re young, this is how they see the world. They might see these people as heroes.”

”You are the real heroes of America. No one could do the job like you could, not even the Avengers.”

”We can do something to help these amazing doctors by staying at home. It may be hard but if Rapunzel could do it then so can we!”

For some of the students, the COVID-19 pandemic may help shape who they become.

”You are all of the things I want to be as an adult. You have worked so hard to get where you are, and you give every day your all.”

”I hope that one day I can also be as brave as you guys, what you guys are doing is so amazing.”

The assignment was a learning experience for Kelly, too, as it allowed her to get a glimpse inside of the lives of her students, even though she could no longer see them in person.

“I didn’t know, initially, that there were students (who) were already experiencing COVID-19 at home, or ones who had family members on the front lines,” she said.

One student spoke of their own experience with health care workers after getting tested for the disease.

”I’ll never forget the day I got tested for COVID-19. How terrified I felt. I felt so sick and scared but everyone made me feel safe and comfortable.”

Kelly said she hoped the assignment would be of comfort not only to those the students are thanking, but to the students themselves.

“I hope it allows them to cope a little bit,” she said. “Sometimes gratitude helps us find a little bit of happiness. Even in the hardest time, it’s one thing we can do.”

To read more of the letters, visit: skagit.ws/30KBt9m.

— Reporter Kera Wanielista: 360-416-2141, kwanielista@skagitpublishing.com, Twitter: @Kera_SVH, facebook.com/KeraReports

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