‘Thank you’: Geffen Academy students show love for front-line health care workers through letters, drawings

‘You make a huge impact, and you are the only reason that we are still here today,’ wrote one student.

For most young students, the pandemic-enforced experience of remote learning has been an exercise in perseverance and patience. But for an idealistic group of middle-schoolers at UCLA's prestigious Geffen Academy, it also has become an education in the eloquent expression of gratitude.

Peyton Lange, left and Eleanor Lee, eighth-grade students at the Geffen Academy, organized classmates in a letter-writing campaign to thank UCLA Health's front-line workers for their amazing efforts during the COVID-19 pandemic. (Photo by Joshua Sudock/UCLA Health)

The academy provides instruction to young people from grades six through 12. In December, at the height of a new COVID-19 surge, two of Geffen's middle-school students — Peyton Lange and Eleanor Lee — came up with the idea of joining an effort to write thank you notes to UCLA Health’s front-line workers.

When the plan was approved by the Leadership Lab — Geffen’s form of student government – the decision was made to focus on the campus-based medical professionals who had done so much to sustain people through the pandemic.

The result was an outpouring of heartfelt thanks from young people taught to value expressive writing.

“We wanted the project to be community‑service based, and at the time, COVID cases were through the roof, so that gave us the topic for the project,” Lange said. “And then after doing some research, we came across the UCLA Volunteer Center website, which was running a letter-writing program to front‑line workers. It inspired us to contribute to the project, since Geffen is affiliated with UCLA.”

Lange and Lee put together a leadership committee to gather letters in Geffen’s middle school, getting the word out during Zoom classes and through the campus’ social media network. 

“Cards were written in all forms,” Lange said. “Some people typed up cards, some people wrote it out, some people made drawings or virtual designs.”

During some of the worst days of the pandemic, writing the letters provided a creative outlet and a form of therapy for the students.

“I think drawing or writing is always a way to just let your feelings out, so I think for a lot of people, it was definitely nice,” Lange said.

In all, more than 280 letters and drawings were collected and distributed to UCLA health care workers.

“It was just so amazing how much time people would put into it,” Lange said. “Like a lot of people wrote extremely long letters or very detailed drawings that really demonstrated how much gratitude they had for all the UCLA front‑line workers. It was very rewarding to be able to show gratitude to the people who played such a vital role in keeping people healthy during a pandemic.”

One student wrote: “You are truly the best of us. You make a huge impact, and you are the only reason that we are still here today. I know that you are running low on supplies like PPE but we can get through this tough time. I look up to your strength and perseverance. Thank you so much.”

Another student told UCLA health care workers: “During this pandemic you have done so much for our community. You have been working one of the most dangerous jobs in the world right now and have been doing it for almost an entire year. You guys are leading the world against this virus and just know that you are appreciated and thought of.”

Yet another student wrote that because of the bravery, kindness and resilience of the front-line workers “kids like me can get back to school sooner.

“You have saved many lives and have one of the HARDEST yet most IMPORTANT jobs that there is out there. Each day you put your life on the line to save other ones,” the student wrote.

The students’ artwork included colorful illustrations of masks, hearts and rainbows. 

Lee said some middle-schoolers wrote about their own experiences with the UCLA health care workers during the pandemic. “They explained how caring they were and how well taken care of patients were, which is really cool to hear,” she said.

Shelby Bartlett, the Geffen Academy’s assistant dean of students, middle school, said the school got an email from hospital volunteers saying the letters were “very well received.”

In turn, the students were touched by the health care workers’ response.

“Our school is affiliated with UCLA, so they're kind of a big part of our Geffen community,” Lee said. “So we wanted to give back to the people who are in our community.”

After the pandemic is over, the students are hoping to meet with the front-line workers to express the gratitude in person, Lange said.

“That would be really, really great and something that we are hoping to make happen,” she said.

Tina Daunt is the author of this article.

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