Budlong Elementary- Sylvia Rajska & Betsy Zacsek, 4th Grade

“The students were able to see how all their stories mattered. They “fit in” to be a part of a movement, or something bigger than themselves.”

– Budlong Elementary School, 4th Grade Teacher, Sylvia Rajska

Words by Budlong Elementary School, 4th grade Teacher, Sylvia Rajska and Teaching Artist Betsy Zacsek, 4th grade.

We began the project by talking about what it means to “fit in,” initially talking about our classroom community, puzzle pieces, symbols, and how they identify something.

Students created their own symbols and puzzle pieces, related it to the question of how they fit in and then how the class fit in. The unit originally followed their puzzles and mysteries curriculum, so by having them start by understanding and using symbols to introduce them to visual storytelling was a useful springboard. We’d planned a series of fun and differentiated lessons that would culminate in a final masterpiece where they tell a story with pictures, hidden clues, a catchy title, and in class writing.


We did half our unit in class and half remotely. We felt everything change through our inquiry question: “How do I fit in? How do we fit in?” Suddenly, we weren’t necessarily talking about our classroom community; we were talking about how we fit in with our families, our online communities, our neighbors, and how we related to the whole during a really, upsetting and turbulent time. Ms. Rajska really embraced the journal project and this became a place for students to reflect on their lives and answer a beautiful series of questions over the semester.

Daily Journals

After students transitioned to distance-learning, we met on Google Meet with the students and they shared their journals and visual representations that went with them. This transitioned into a daily journal prompt students worked on during Writing time. As they shared their responses with us, we were able to dive deep into reflection and students were able to see how they personally fit in during this time of the pandemic and how we fit in as a school and community.

The students learned about privacy and sharing their thoughts, feelings, and ideas. A journal is something that is completely private that many students had not had an opportunity to embrace before this time. Through this experience, they have learned about their own experiences and how they have changed their own ideas and thinking, keeping in mind the “big picture” and their “new reality” during this time.

Select Journal Prompts:

Wednesday, April 29, 2020
What has been a good change I have made to my daily schedule? If I have not made a good change to my daily schedule, what is one thing I can do every day starting today that will add something positive to my day?

Wednesday, May 6, 2020
Think about one person that really has made a difference in your life in the past month. It can be a friend, teacher, or family member. Write about what makes them important to you and how they have impacted your life.

Wednesday, May 20, 2020
Describe your perfect day (pre-COVID). Is it an active day or a lazy day? What would you do? What would you eat?

Tuesday, June 2, 2020
What has been happening in our city? What are they fighting for? How can you be a positive change in this world? Give an example of something you can do to support someone and fight injustice.

Thursday, June 4, 2020
Amidst all the chaos that has happened during this quarantine, what has been a constant in your life? Are there one or two things that you could look to and know they have stayed the same?



The final project was turning our favorite journals into symbolic art. We discussed what has been constant throughout our pandemic times and how the string that holds our symbols together is a constant. This idea totally came out of our collaborative inquiry and our observation that working together had been a constant for the teacher and artist.