For the 19 winners of the 2020 Turning Points annual personal essay-writing contest, which ran exclusively in Newfoundland and Labrador this year, COVID-19 didn’t get in the way of their personal reflections. Guided by their teachers, students shared with moving honesty and penetrating insight some of the biggest challenges they’ve faced in their young lives and what they’ve learned from them.
Tasked to recount a true story about a moment that changed the trajectory of their lives, Grades 7 and 11 students from Newfoundland and Labrador English School District wrote with depth and flair about their personal encounters with accidents, sickness and death; dealing with anxiety, loneliness and shyness; and achieving personal goals they never thought possible. Given that the essays were generated in spring 2020, it was not surprising to see two students reflecting on the impact of COVID-19 on their lives and communities.
Kailey Bouzane, a Grade 7 student in Avalon Region, wrote in My New Normal that COVID-19 has taught her “how to be grateful about the things I have and how to distinguish the difference between things I need and the things I want. It has shown me the beauty of family, especially in times like these. It has made me more in touch with my emotions, as they show themselves during this tough time. The most important thing this situation has taught me, and the one I will cherish the most, is how to see light in even the darkest of places.”
For many, the influence of others on their lives was a point of reflection. Katie Spurrell, a Grade 7 student in Central Region, wrote of the importance of her father’s encouragement in The Girl Who Couldn’t: “‘You can do it,’ he said. At the time those four little words just flew over my head, but little did I know they would forever change me.”
Still others wrote of becoming aware of the impact they had on others. In Sophia Lewis’s essay, Making A Difference, the Grade 7 student took her reader on her journey to raising more than $1,800 for research into Huntington’s disease, which claimed the life of her grandmother. Her story is one not just of personal loss but also ingenuity and passion for changing the lives of others: “This also made me realize that one simple thing that I am doing can make a big difference to someone else.”
For Margaret Beyere, Grade 7, Labrador Region, the prospect of needing to change schools caused great anxiety, which she writes about in The Switch with compelling imagery: “I felt sick. Like the world around me was getting smaller and smaller, and was going to crush me. A tiny puddle of salt water started forming itself on the floor in front of me, I was sobbing.” She details how she found a friend and came to terms with the change, concluding: “Change isn’t so bad, especially when you’re not alone.”
Battling shyness and anxiety emerged as a common theme in several essays including Cheyanne Jennings’ Star Gazing, in which the Grade 7 Central Region student finds that an evening spent under the stars gave her a strategy for managing the anxiety of the present while providing her with a goal for the future.
In Intertwined, a traumatic event prompted camp counsellor and Grade 11 student Erin Meaney to help a young boy cope with his fear by teaching him to braid her hair. In so doing, he helped her come to terms with her grief over her mother’s death two years earlier. “I couldn’t believe that this small gesture that I made to this kid meant so much that he went home and practiced how to braid for weeks. … I thought that I was able to shine in that moment with the boy because of the way I was raised. Reflecting on all this, I realized that I needed to talk about my mom. I needed to talk about the person she was. If I did not talk about her, the valuable life lessons she taught me would be forgotten. I also needed to talk about her death, as that has also changed the person that I am.”
Our awe and congratulations go out to each of this year’s winners who shared with courage and creativity their personal stories. Read them all in the 2020 Turning Points Anthology.
The Learning Partnership deeply appreciates the support of an anonymous corporate donor, the Department of Education and Early Childhood Development NL, Newfoundland and Labrador English School District, the teachers who facilitated the writing process, the judges who took time to review the essays, and all of the students who participated.