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Gratitude amidst a pandemic: stories from the BHS community

November 24, 2020

Thanksgiving is upon us, which means we’re thinking about turkey, stuffing, and most of all, gratitude. The Register interviewed five members of the Burlington High School community about what has helped them through the pandemic, and gratitude in their lives during complicated times. 


Jill Kelley:

Jill Kelley is an English teacher at Burlington High School. She lives in South Burlington with her two daughters, husband, and puppy. 


It was really difficult when March came, and we shut down the schools. I felt a real sense of grief.  I found that I had to, instead of just wallowing in the loss, think about what I do have here that I am thankful for. I started to look at it as a special time for my family to be together and to just really take this time to just slow it down and spend time together. Our schedules were usually so busy that we didn’t have a lot of family time before the pandemic. To just see each other every single day has been a blessing. 


I’ve slowed down a lot. I really started thinking ‘what are the places around us that we can go to?’ We’re not going to travel this year, but what can we do every day? We used to call them mini-adventures. We explored all the various trails around South Burlington. 



Ms. Kelley explores local trails with her daughters. Photo: Jill Kelley

Before, life was so busy that it was really easy to go through a day or a week without really stopping and just acknowledging what is good around me. I have gotten [back] into playing the piano, which I had fallen off for a while. Now I play the piano every day. So, some of those hobbies that I used to just not have time for, I’ve made time for. It’s brought this calming presence back into my life.


As much as I would like to get back to normal, I’m also just really appreciative of this time. This is a unique time in our lives where we can focus on relationships. It’s brought me a deeper sense of awareness of what I really do have in my life, and how fortunate I am to have it. 


As isolated as we all might feel, I also feel a real sense of togetherness and community, and compassion. We still need to go outside and have those experiences of just stopping and looking at a bird walking in the water or watching the wind in the trees. These are things that make us human and can help us to feel grounded again. With the pandemic, I’ve just been refocusing on what really matters, and for me, that’s relationships, and other human beings, above all else.


Tess Barker:

Tess Barker is a cross-country runner and a sophomore at BHS.


I’ve been mostly trying to keep in touch with friends. Now, [communication] is all online, but before, it was in-person. I’m making sure I’m keeping those connections. Cross-country practice used to be a really good way to connect with my friends. And now, because of the new lockdown, it’s been texting, or FaceTime with them. It’s been important to me to keep those connections because they’ve been lots of fun to have in my life.

Barker ran cross country for the Fall 2020 season. Photo: Tess Barker.

The feeling of uncertainty has been a challenge, not knowing what’s coming or when this is going to end; but, I really feel like I can tell [my friends] anything. They always understand and can offer support, just like reaching out to me. Having one-on-one conversations about how life is going and making sure everything is okay has been really important.


There was a time, a little bit earlier in the year when my friends and I were having weekly game nights together. It was really nice to be included in that, and have that connection to them. We would get together and order pizza and play board games and card games. All of us really enjoyed playing games, so it’s too bad that we can’t do that anymore. There’s not a great way to do that online, so it’s too bad that it’s gone. But, I’ve been playing games with my family a little more than I normally would.


I’m more thankful for the more mundane things in life now. They’ve become really prevalent. Having a warm house, that’s really important right now, because we have to stay in our houses. The things that I wouldn’t necessarily be thankful for every day before the Pandemic, I am now.


Kevin Cook:


Kevin Cook is an English teacher at Burlington High School.


I have two grown children. They’re both out of college. One of them is living with us now, but the other lives in Maine. With the Coronavirus spiking, it’s going to be difficult for her to join us for the holidays. I’m grateful for every moment that I do have with them. I am really appreciative, because the one who moved to Maine, she was home with us for about a year after she graduated from college. I was aware the whole time that it wasn’t going to last. It was really nice to just be able to appreciate her every day. The daughter who is living with us, she’s probably moving out soon, and we won’t see her as much when she does. That will be sad, but that’s the way it’s supposed to be. It’s nice to have this time while we have it.

Mr. Cook smiles with his wife and two daughters. Photo: Kevin Cook

Early in the pandemic, before my daughter moved out, we were all here. My younger daughter actually came home for spring break and couldn’t go back, so for her, it was a bummer. I’m not going to minimize that. But for me and my wife, having our family together was great, because we never really expected that to happen again. We kind of thought they’d both go off to college and they’d both be gone, off in their lives, and that we’d see them the way people do when their children become adults. It was great to have that time, all of us together.


I don’t want to say I’m grateful for the Coronavirus; I’m not. But I’m grateful for that awareness of having everything we take for granted be called into question, [and for] being able to appreciate those things a little bit more, now that they’ve been sort of taken from us in a way. You kind of take for granted being able to get together with friends, and now that we can’t, I appreciate the times that we can that much more. I’m trying to nurture those friendships and relationships in a way that maybe I wouldn’t have when I could see people any time.


Kelvin Kibabu: 

Kelvin Kibabu is a senior at Burlington High School and a longtime player for BHS’s boy’s Varsity Soccer Team. This fall, the team won the state championship for the first time since 2016.


At first [the pandemic] was kind of new. It took some time to get used to it, being inside all the time, not doing anything. I got a good routine together. I started wearing masks more. They stopped bothering me as much. After I got used to it, it wasn’t that bad. 


During preseason, most of the team would go to BHS and practice and get ready for the season. It was good getting outside and seeing friends after being inside for such a long time.


It was actually relieving, after [the championship], because of the Pandemic. It was a nerve-wracking season. Going into it, we didn’t know how we would stack up against other teams, so winning the championship was pretty great. I’m grateful for things that I’ve accomplished, I’m grateful that we won. This was the most important season of my high school career because I’m a senior. 


I enjoyed being with the team, I enjoyed practices. I enjoyed the whole season. It was fun playing with all the boys for my last season as a senior. I’m grateful for that.

Kibabu dribbles at a soccer game at Burlington’s Buckhard Field. Photo: Charlie McConnell, BHS Register


Greta Kilburn:

Greta Kilburn is a sophomore and a cross country runner at BHS. 


It’s definitely been different not being in school. I’ve stayed pretty busy with sports and schoolwork, so I haven’t been lacking things to do. School sports have been good because I can still see all my friends every day after school. I guess it has felt normal, because if I wasn’t busy I wouldn’t know what to do. Having a lot of activities and stuff to do is important to cope with what’s going on. 


We got a puppy in the spring, so I’ve had her through the whole pandemic. That’s been really nice because we’ve been training her, and she’s been really sweet. It’s brought a lot of joy into my life.  It’s like having another family member. We love her. She’s great. You have to do a lot with dogs; you have to train them and take them for walks. It’s a lot, so that’s also a big part of why I’m busy.

Kilburn’s family dog has kept her busy in the past months. Photo: Greta Kilburn

The spring was a shock for sure, it definitely felt like things were uprooted. But I live in a neighborhood where a lot of people are outside, and kids are running around, which has been good for everyone. Over the summer, my neighbors were doing ‘outdoor movie nights’ because they have a projector, which was fun. It’s just a bunch of families, and everyone’s just really good friends. 


It’s been hard not being able to go inside people’s houses, and to not be within six feet of people. That’s been difficult. It’s been hard not being able to hug people and see friends more often. Normally we would have potlucks outside in the summer, but we kind of substituted that with the outdoor movies. For the younger kids in the neighborhood, I think it’s been essential to have other little kids nearby.


I’m so grateful for my family right now. I have an older brother, he’s going to UVM, but living at home. It’s been great to have him around, like having a friend.  We do a lot of outdoor activities together. We’re still able to do that. They’re the only people I can see. Without them, I would be completely isolated.


For more student stories from the BHS community, check out the ‘Feature’ section of

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