PHOTOS: South Surrey/White Rock students’ COVID-era history project ‘cathartic’

A group of Semiahmoo Peninsula students are building a VR platform to preserve White Rock’s COVID-19 stories. ( screenshot)A group of Semiahmoo Peninsula students are building a VR platform to preserve White Rock’s COVID-19 stories. ( screenshot)
A group of Semiahmoo Peninsula students are building a VR platform to preserve White Rock’s COVID-19 stories. ( screenshot)A group of Semiahmoo Peninsula students are building a VR platform to preserve White Rock’s COVID-19 stories. ( screenshot)
Faces of the Community in You(th) project (left to right): top row, Lisa Xie, Simon Meng, Vicky Li, Celina Qu, Ruby Liu; second row, Adelina Chen, Max Li, Vicky Wei, Johnson Wu, Kathy Xu; third row, Wendy Gong, Ethan Wang, Briana Chen, Olivia Lu, Alan Deng; fourth row, Jennifer Wang, Tim Wang, Queenie Zheng, Frank Li, Flora Li. (Contributed)

A group of more than two dozen high school and post-secondary students on the Semiahmoo Peninsula who are working to preserve the local history of COVID-19 – “to capture the sense of community and solidarity during COVID times” – shared an update on their project with council this month.

At the Sept. 20 council meeting, Mayor Darryl Walker quipped that several Semiahmoo Secondary students “set the record for the longest presentation” when they detailed the Community in You(th) group’s efforts so far to build their virtual-reality platform.

READ MORE: Semiahmoo Peninsula youth project preserves COVID-era history

Around 80 per cent complete, it’s expected to be ready for the public eye in the near future.

The students explained that the idea took root as the third wave of the pandemic approached.

“We wanted to preserve artifacts associated, as well as story of the community as we move forward past COVID-19,” Lisa Xie told council.

“We wanted to commemorate a world-changing event,” added Simon Meng, a Grade 12 student.

“Empowered… every single step of the way” by White Rock Museum & Archive officials, the students set their focus on three pillars: community in response; business and the pandemic; and challenges of COVID.

The first pillar looks at how people reacted to, felt about and dealt with challenges brought about by the pandemic. In the second, the stories focus on how businesses faced the difficulties. With the third pillar, Ruby Liu said the goal “is to listen to and learn about the hardships faced by citizens in our local community.”

One commonality, noted Max Li, was that “nobody liked the pandemic, as the health guidelines restricted their everyday lives.”

The response, Li continued, depended on people becoming more and more aware and informed over the course of the pandemic.

“Once that happened, people rose above and came together, often virtually, to encourage one another and make progress.”

Interviews revealed that similar challenges were faced by businesses and non-profit organizations alike, the students noted, citing the need to transition to online operations as one example – for some, that step actually increased their reach, while for others, it was a way to stay in business.

One student commenting on the third pillar’s task said that at the start, it was “pretty difficult to try and wrap our heads around how we would sufficiently grasp the amount of obstacles and hardships we’ve all experienced during this pandemic.”

“So, we tackled this by amplifying the voices of individuals rather than corporate entities and organizations like the previous pillars,” the student said.

”Our pillar really acts as the lens through which we can examine how teachers and our peers and students really coped with the challenges during this pandemic and whether this be financial struggles or challenges with mental and of course, physical well-being.”

Kathy Xu, in Grade 11, said one of the most inspirational people she has encountered over the course of the project is a Semi grad who is currently a health-care instructor, a nurse on the front lines and current Miss Earth – identified online as a Surrey resident.

“Unfortunately, when she was doing her work as a nurse, she became one of the first people in Canada, and maybe even the first few in North America, to be diagnosed with COVID-19,” Xu said. “It immediately affected her work and her life and she had to withdraw from her work for an entire month. She was afraid if she went to the hospital it might further spread COVID-19.”

The 2020 title-holder is “doing very well now,” Xu noted.

The students told council that they decided to deliver their project in digital form “because we wanted to be creative about the spaces available” and make it accessible to all.

In a two-minute video, they showed how they used a 360-degree camera to record the area around the pier and promenade, interactive text icons to display stories and created artwork “to represent the feelings of the pandemic and the stories we created.”

“Through both artwork and text, our goal was to unite COVID, White Rock and a sense of community. COVID is present in those digital elements, White Rock is present in that scenery and for us, the sense of community can be seen through the different voices and people all running down the same pier.

“That shows the diversity of our population even though we are united and in the same space.”

Xie added that the project has been a growing experience for the students themselves, getting them more involved “in what community means to them.”

“And they’ve gained a sense of community, through speaking to people outside their bubbles, speaking with organizations/businesses and understanding more holistically what their role is within this community.”

Going forward, Xie continued, the students “want to unite and continue to create narratives that is evolving around the city of White Rock, and also create our identities that we are continuing to explore as young adults and teenagers.”

Council members thanked the students for their efforts.

“I think what you’re doing – capturing that and putting it in the museum and online – is really going to be cathartic for everybody,” said Coun. Scott Kristjanson, noting his own daughter attends Semi.

“I think we all have these experiences, but we’re not sure everybody else does, and to have that captured, I really appreciate that,” he said.

“It will be something that we’ll cherish for a long, long time.”
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