Saturday, February 27, 2021
Feb. 27, 2021

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HeLa High students compare pandemics past and present

By , Columbian staff writer
Published:
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A nurse takes the pulse of a patient in the influenza ward of the Walter Reed hospital in Washington in November 1918. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the number of U.S. deaths from the Spanish flu pandemic was estimated to be about 675,000.
A nurse takes the pulse of a patient in the influenza ward of the Walter Reed hospital in Washington in November 1918. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the number of U.S. deaths from the Spanish flu pandemic was estimated to be about 675,000. (Harris & Ewing/Library of Congress) Photo Gallery

Without hesitation, classroom teachers Susie Ridgway and Randy Conrad say their Henrietta Lacks Health and Bioscience High School students are becoming the unofficial pandemic experts of Clark County.

“They sound like epidemiologists,” Ridgway said.

More than 40 epidemiology and history students worked together in small groups over a month, comparing and contrasting various elements of the past century’s largest pandemic, the 1918 Spanish flu, and the ongoing COVID-19 outbreak.

Students examined access to health care, prevention and treatment, public response and policy matters. Once completed, students produced virtual presentations featuring T-charts and Venn diagrams for how each era dealt with the pandemics, and they identified historical patterns and advances society made in response to them.

Repeating patterns

Collaboration between Ridgway and Conrad isn’t new. Ridgway is the head of the school’s public health pathway and has taught epidemiology since the school introduced the course in 2014. Conrad teaches U.S. history, along with psychology and English.

This is the third year they’ve teamed up for a student project. As a history teacher, Conrad stresses that history doesn’t repeat itself — but patterns do. Ridgway said patterns are also significant in epidemiology, which is why the teachers’ goal was for students to learn and understand historical outbreaks, see patterns and subsequence responses.

Students took that approach as they pored through data and research. Sophomore Anna Pylypovets and seniors Nathan Zimmerman and Wala Ben Abdallah focused on issues surrounding mental health. They learned how self-isolation and lack of human interaction led to increased incidences of crime, unrest, and suicides, as well as other societal patterns that may be expected in any future pandemics.

“We could estimate there will probably be a lot of depression and anxiety associated with it,” Pylypovets said, “because patterns will keep leaking through.”

Living in history

As they approach the one-year mark of remote learning next month and living through a pandemic, the HeLa students continue to focus on their own mental health. They’re finding that sticking to a routine and keeping an open mind on a forward path can be beneficial.

Sophomore Whitney Schilling’s group centered their pandemic focus around political response and censorship. She researched and watched firsthand how different presidential administrations handled the public response to a pandemic under their watch. She also has an interest in going into politics, and plans to enter the school’s public health pathway next school year.

“I found it so interesting that one group decided it’d be best not to talk about it,” Schilling said, referring to President Woodrow Wilson’s efforts. “Seeing how political leaders have responded in both pandemics, I think it’s shown me, and hopefully, lead the way if I do go into that.”

What Ridgway and Conrad hoped their students achieved goes beyond their all-remote final project. The process is what’s most important, they said.

“We knew they’re going to learn things, but the fact they were communicating and working together was amazing,” Conrad said. “To the degree they were doing it exceeded our expectations.”

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