Radio stations tap community voices for perspectives on housebound living

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Hillery Scott with her daughters Lucy and Charlotte, who submitted their thoughts on school closures to WBOI.

Two public radio stations are highlighting listeners’ experiences during the COVID-19 pandemic by asking them to share their thoughts through poetry and weekly assignments for young people. 

Representatives of WTJU in Charlottesville, Va., and Northeast Indiana Public Radio in Fort Wayne, Ind., both say their projects aim to unite their communities.

WTJU is partnering with The Bridge, a local arts nonprofit that is collecting submissions of people recording “quarantine haikus” about their situation. Northeast Indiana Public Radio is sending parents weekly assignments for their kids to discuss how they feel about school closures and other aspects of life during social distancing.

WTJU was already partnering with The Bridge before the pandemic, according to GM Nathan Moore. Moore asked if WTJU could air The Bridge’s quarantine haiku, and they’re now featured within the station’s music programming.

“They are the voices of the community, reflected back out on the community,” said Moore. 

The haiku range from silly to earnest, with many appreciating nature and the newfound solitude required for social distancing.

If social distance

Means more bald eagle sightings

Well then, sign me up 

If you’re stir-crazy

Look in the mirror and sing

Eye contact is best

 Airing the haiku fits with WTJU’s efforts to become a “cultural covener,” Moore said. Public media plays an important role in crises such as the pandemic by meeting people’s needs for a sense of belonging, access to information and the ability to come together through culture, he said.. 

“It’s an accessible platform that’s there through all the crises and in the good times … and it makes the community more vibrant,” said Moore. 

Children sharing parents’ worries

Katy Anderson, PD at WBOI/Northeast Indiana Public Radio, said she came up with the idea to gather kids’ perspectives through their parents when schools in the station’s area closed due to the pandemic. Anderson said she found it fascinating to see this time through the eyes of young people and wanted to highlight that. 

“We’re hearing about a lot of the horrible things people are going through right now. … Those are of course very important, but I think it’s important to get the perspective of young people, too,” said Anderson. “Because this is something our country hasn’t ever really gone through before.” 

Anderson said she had also seen a lot of parents on social media talking about their struggles to keep their children busy while schools are closed and wanted to help support them with a project. The project can help them teach their kids to be better communicators, she said.

“We’re not trying to just give out busywork,” Anderson said. “We’re trying to make this a meaningful experience for both the students and their parents.” 

Northeast Indiana Public Radio posted on Facebook calling for parents with students of any age to act as “correspondents” and record their children’s thoughts on a question or assignment shared by the station each week. The station received a dozen responses from children ranging from first grade to college age and their parents. 

The first question asked kids and parents for their perspectives on school closures. The next week’s assignment asked kids to interview someone in their household about Indiana’s statewide stay-at-home ban. The first segment, a compilation of seven submissions, aired March 23. 

Fourth-grader Gabriel Flotow said, “When I first found out my school was closing, I felt sad because I can’t actually see my friends, I can only talk to them. Mom, how did you feel?” His mother replied, “I felt a little bit stressed out and kind of concerned, and very overwhelmed.”

Quint Lawrence, a fifth-grader, said, “When I first found out my school was closing, I felt worried. … Plus, I hate e-learning, too.” 

Students’ responses have shown that they’re just as concerned as their parents about the pandemic, Anderson said. “It doesn’t feel like a fun snow day to kids,” she said. “They’re really upset.”

“Seniors in high school are upset about missing prom and commencement … and everyone’s pretty devastated to not see their school or their friends for a long time,” Anderson said.

Anderson said WBOI is trying to be a focal point in the community, giving people helpful information and helping them learn how to support each other. It’s also making sure to highlight the good people are doing as well, such as the outreach the local arts community is conducting to be accessible. The focus is on how to best serve the station’s listeners, Anderson said. 

“We’re living through a weird period of history, and it’s our job to be the note-takers,” said Anderson. 

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