It was beyond cringeworthy. A recent CBS News video montage of kids on spring break in Florida left me downright infuriated.

“If I get corona, I get corona,” proclaimed the now-ubiquitous young man with the sunburned cheeks and the backwards baseball cap. “At the end of the day, I’m not going to let it stop me from partying!”

Reaching deep into my faith in human nature, I figured not all kids can be that lost in their own self-interest. I yearned for an antidote, a sign that some young people are smart enough to realize that the COVID-19 pandemic isn’t just about them.

Then it came.

“I’ve been seeing a lot of stuff on social media, kids talking about how this is overhyped, it’s not that bad, you’re not going to get it and stuff like that,” Jonah Bird, a senior at Gorham High School, told me in a phone interview. “But that’s not really what it’s about. It’s about containing and stopping the spread. It’s not just about who gets it or not – it’s about (not) giving it to other people.”

Jonah’s is the first face you see on “Protect Nana,” a public service announcement launched last week by a group of Gorham High School seniors who are as talented as they are socially responsible. The two spots – a short version and a long version – were produced by kids for kids, with a strong assist from teacher Adam Parvanta, also the school’s technology integrator.

“It was crazy,” said Parvanta, Maine’s 2019 winner of the annual Milken Educator Award, as he looked back on a process that, for all its moving parts, took less than a week from the first brainstorming session to the final edit. “I knew I had a pretty talented, tight crew of independent study kids. And I knew they would be the perfect ones to pull this off.”

It all started the week before last when Kelli Deveaux, communications director for the Maine Department of Education, decided Maine needed a specific message to young people that the rapid spread of COVID-19 is neither overhyped nor a joke.

With 25 years of teaching under her belt and a teenager of her own, Deveaux also realized what she was up against.

“I know very well that if you want high school students to listen, they need to be talking to each other,” Deveaux said. “Because if I have learned anything over those years, they’re fairly sure that we adults don’t know anything.”

Deveaux immediately thought of Parvanta, who, as the Milken Family Foundation put it in honoring him last year, “uses technology to turn students into storytellers.” Could he enlist his kids to produce a public service announcement for Maine’s media outlets, Deveaux asked, and have it done by, well, yesterday?

Say no more.

Parvanta thought immediately of his six-member advanced content creation class, an independent study course for seniors. With the school already shut down, he corralled them into an online Google Hangouts meeting, presented the challenge, and stepped back while the creative juices began to flow.

“I knew they had the technical expertise and the creative eye, but also, they being 17, 18 years old, I could go direct to them and ask, ‘How do you want to message this? Because it’s going to your age group, it’s going to your demographic.’” Parvanta said.

The kids quickly got organized, connecting only by internet and recruiting other students with a knack for video production, messaging and, most important, comfort in front of a camera.

Using talking points provided by Deveaux at the education department, they came up with a scenario – starring Jonah, Brittney Landry, Aidan Owens, Meg Perry and Alex Burghardt – in which they’ve just finished an online school project and agree to meet “down at the field” for a little lacrosse, maybe even stop by the mall afterward.

“I’ve got Nana’s van,” says Aidan, dangling a set of keys. “I can pick you guys up!”

“Let’s go!” they all say.

Hard stop. Cut to “message actors” Nick Strout and Anna Nault.

“We are not invincible. It’s our job to flatten the curve,” says Nick, who also served as the video’s producer along with Andrew Rent, Brady King and Josh Ball.

“Even though you should be staying home, social distancing doesn’t mean social isolation,” says Anna, who appears alongside her younger sister, Olivia, and their yellow lab Lucy. Side note: Lucy, much to Anna’s amusement, suddenly lunges her head upward at one point to catch a piece of pancake – tossed from off camera by Anna’s mother to make sure the dog stayed put.

Back to Nick: “Remember, maintain your distance, slow the spread and protect Nana.”

Cut to black with the messages “We’re all in this together” and “#PROTECTNANA.”

It’s worth noting, as COVID-19 shuts down life as we all know it, that these kids are all high school seniors. Meaning that a few short weeks ago, they were poised to celebrate what we old farts tell them this is “the best year of your life” – from senior prom to spring sports to graduation and, as Anna put it, “the rest of our senior year in general.”

With a lot of luck, those things might still happen. But as Maine soars past 200 confirmed cases and reports its first death from COVID-19, there’s a growing chance that this rite of passage for the Class of 2020 will be shared not via fist bumps and bear hugs, but rather with virtual waves and digital touch pads.

In other words, as the video says, we truly are all in this together.

That’s why these kids and the adults who guided them deserve our thanks and praise at this pivotal moment in the pandemic.

They could have been carefree and defiant, like the bozos on the Florida beaches.

They could have sulked about all they’re missing, forgetting that while the commencement of their adult lives might proceed without the usual fanfare, their elders worry about surviving at all.

They could even buy into the latest and most pernicious of disinformation campaigns, which claim the pandemic caused by the novel coronavirus is all a politically driven overreaction or some sort of deep-state hoax.

Instead, this group from Gorham spent five days brainstorming, setting up their multiple shots (Jonah quickly solved a lighting problem by hanging a cover over his bedroom window), recording, editing and, as teacher Parvanta compiled the final product, chiming in over Facetime as they watched each tweak on Parvanta’s home computer screen.

And, whizzes that they already were, they did it all without once actually coming into contact with one another.

So if you’re worried about the future, fellow old-timers, look not at the partiers on the beach, but at these young prodigies at their computers.

They’re our future. And even in these darkest of times, they shine bright.


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