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Seattle nonprofit launches competition offering kids chance to reflect on COVID, win prizes

First grade students practice their handwriting at the Green Mountain School on Feb. 18, 2021, in Woodland, Washington. (Photo by Nathan Howard/Getty Images)

It’s been nearly a year since most schools in Washington state closed to in-person learning due to COVID-19, with much of the of the nation not far behind, and some parts of the globe already shut down. The months of remote learning, lack of social interaction, and, for some, loss of loved ones has had a significant impact on young students around the world.

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“For me, personally, it’s definitely been difficult because of virtual contacting in comparison to school, back then I could talk to whoever I wanted at school and it definitely feels less meaningful to talk with my friends online,” said Richard, a senior at Newport High School in Bellevue.

“Canceled events have also been really impactful because I have a lot of hobbies, like playing soccer, playing badminton, and playing chess. I can’t go to competitions anymore. I can’t go practice with my friends,” he continued. “It definitely feels really lonely and boring at home sometimes, and I feel like that’s something that impacts a lot of people right now, where they’re lonely and depressed at home. They feel like they’re not really doing much right now. It feels like they can do more, but they don’t know what to do.”

Richard is not alone.

“I totally resonate with the social and physical isolation,” said Aaron, a fellow Newport High senior.

“It can be really difficult, but I think on the bright side, there’s a certain level of solitude that quarantine grants you where it’s just you and your thoughts, so it’s a really unique opportunity for self-reflection and [to] figure out what is important to you,” he added.

Both teens are part of Mission InspirEd, a student-run nonprofit in Seattle that is meant to serve as a launch pad for student success, with a mission to create the largest, free learning platform for K-12 students. The pair of seniors launched the nonprofit as freshman in 2018, along with other founding member students.

That’s where Tales of Quarantine comes in.

Tales of Quarantine is a global contest for all K-12 students the nonprofit launched Monday that seeks to address the creative gap the pandemic has created for students by asking kids of all grades around the world to submit a developed and concise creative video, writing, or illustration project.

“We thought of ourselves as students ourselves, we believe that we were struggling with COVID-19, we weren’t able to express ourselves as we wanted to,” explained Richard, adding they also knew the cancelled extra-curricular activities and competitions, sports, and clubs likely left other creative students as frustrated as they were with no outlet.

“So we felt like other students like us could take an opportunity to start expressing themselves, showing what they could do during COVID-19, and thinking deeply about what they want to do,” Richard said.

A panel of judges will evaluate submissions, with rewards and cash prizes up to $1,000.

“With Tales from Quarantine, we want them to share through a variety of art forms, whether it be writing something, or taking photography, dancing — there’s a lot of different types of art forms,” Richard explained.

“We feel like people can do what they love, and share what they think, [how] COVID has impacted them, and do that through art,” he added.

He said that this is an opportunity for kids of all ages to share their experiences, frustrations, joys, and anything else they have dealt with during the pandemic by creating something memorable. It also offers a chance to relate with others around the world through art, and realize they’re not alone.

Tales of Quarantine is an important step in achieving Mission InspirEd’s vision of being a “communal bridge that connects service-oriented high-schoolers with under-privileged youth,” Richard said.

The group believes creativity needs to be continually fostered and developed, especially when opportunities for personal expression are stymied after nearly a year of quarantine. Challenging students to share their stories, feelings, and reflections about quarantine can certainly help with that goal.

Tales of Quarantine is more than a competition as well, importantly also serving as a community-building event where students across the nation can engage with a community of like-minded peers and rediscover a feeling of social connection.

Additionally, the competition offers students the chance to have their work featured in magazines, galleries, art shows, and more.

Tales of Quarantine includes a junior division and a senior division. The junior division is for ages 6-13, while the senior division is for students aged 14-18. Both divisions include a series of possible prizes.

“There are three categories for each division: writing, media, and visual. Each category has a $100 prize for the winner,” Richard said. “So there would be three $100 prizes for the junior division, and three $100 prizes for the senior division. And there’s also a best prize for the grand winner that we feel like did the most inspirational, most creative, most impactful piece of artwork. They can win a $1,000 prize for the competition.”

Students will have an opportunity to have their work displayed in the nonprofit’s online gallery, potentially shared with news organizations and magazines, and with frontline workers and senior homes.

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The pair of Newport seniors stress that students participating in the competition can use whatever creative skills they have. If your student is not a great painter, maybe they write or photograph, or even video themselves doing a dance routine or performance.

As far as having those works featured in online galleries or senior homes:

“It’s not always about being super technically qualified for us to be inspired by your work and be featured in that way. So we encourage everybody to do it,” Richard said.

The competition opens Monday, Feb. 22, and is open through March 21, the last day submissions will be accepted. A panel of judges will then decide the winners, which will be announced the following week.

To learn more about Tales of Quarantine and Mission InspirEd, visit this site.

Follow Hanna Scott on Twitter or email her here

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