A screen capture of a virtual classroom, showing a grid of students who have joined a virtual meeting due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Several students have their cameras in and are showing their smiling faces. Some students have their cameras off and display initials or avatars. The teacher smiles and wears headphones.

On a dreary winter morning, I log into my email to look for a Google Meets invitation that should be showing up at any minute. On this particular day, when I enter the virtual classroom, I am greeted by the smiling faces of first graders, many of them showing me the carrot they collected in preparation for our class. After the rush of student hellos, a few reminders not to eat the carrot quite yet, and a couple of stories about what students did over the weekend, we start our class.

As the lesson goes on, the first graders are eager to share their stories, connections, and previous knowledge about the topic. There are so many raised hands that the teacher and I decide we will stay after class for a few minutes to give everyone a chance to share. We finally come to the tasting portion of the lesson, and I grin as a student explains to me “the outside of the carrot is bitter, but once I get to the inside, it is sweet!”

Once the lesson is over, the classroom teacher and I stay in the virtual classroom, as promised. I hear stories about gardening, cooking, and a TV show about food science. I am filled with gratitude for the technology that allows me to connect with these vibrant, curious individuals and I feel I could stay on the call for another hour, just chatting. Once goodbyes are said, I am left smiling for the rest of the day.

I was lucky to experience many calls just like this one over the past year thanks to the teachers and students who spent their computer mornings and afternoons with me. We shared joyful news, like an upcoming birthday or a new baby sister. We also shared disappointments, like missing a best friend not seen since March. We turned our videos to the windows to compare snow fall from our different spots in St. Paul and we introduced each other to our family members, both human and animal. I was honored to share these moments with you. Though I missed seeing you in person, I will never forget how our video chats made us feel surprisingly close together. Thank you for your joy, your energy, and your endless drive to learn and discover. You continue to inspire me.

– River Ostrow