Students who wrote essays on “This I Believe” for an English class at Freeport High School included, clockwise from bottom, Lucy Ricker, Alex Webber, Jenny Schaefer and Angel Mezzapelle. Courtesy/ Kate Friesland

FREEPORT — Freshman English teachers Kate Lynch and Kate Friesland know that starting high school in any year has its challenges, but connecting with new students in the midst of a pandemic is an unprecedented struggle.

To combat the lack of personal connection, Friesland and Lynch introduced a unit of study modeled after the 1950s radio program “This I Believe” that was hosted by famed journalist Edward R. Murrow.

In their English classes, the students learned about such notables such as Eleanor Roosevelt and Harry Truman, who went on air to tell an audience of almost 40 million Americans about the set of values by which they lived their lives. The radio show’s popularity came from its ability to spread positivity and inspiration in the time of the Cold War, McCarthyism and racial division.

The show led to a national media project, founded in 2004, that asked people to write about and discuss their guiding principles. At Freeport High School, around 80 students ended their unit of study by writing their own “This I Believe” essay.

Both Friesland and Lynch wrote their own essays and shared them with their classes, demonstrating vulnerability and honesty in their writing with hopes of inspiring the same in their students.

“This assignment empowers them to recognize the power they have to choose how they want to live and what they want to believe,” said Lynch. “To break away from owning what they inherit from how they’ve been raised and developing their own thoughts and identities as citizens in a community. 

Friesland’s student Lucy Ricker was inspired to write her essay about her belief in her right to make independent choices in her life.

“My belief has become more important to me in the past year or so because as I get older I notice I have more freedom with the choices I make and as I grow older there are more that I must make,” Ricker said.

One of Lynch’s students, Luciana Bourgeois, wrote about believing in the power of living in the moment.

“A lot has happened this year (including a pandemic) and it has affected my outlook on life,” Bourgeois wrote in an email to The Forecaster. “I think living in the moment is more important than ever right now because times are tough and it’s important to laugh and smile to maintain some sanity during this pandemic.”

This group of freshmen stuck out to Friesland and Lynch not just for their reflective ability and honest prose, but because of how often they verbalized their gratitude for the two English teachers.

“I think last spring showed them a different side of what it means to be a teacher,” said Friesland. “They’ve had a maturity of thought and a new perception of their own education.”

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