Credit: Photo illustration by Natalie Williams / BDN

PORTLAND, Maine — As educators scrambled to adapt their curriculums to remote learning for the school year, one Maine learning program set a standard for how to write and think about art in the pandemic era — through the eyes of kids.

A group of students at the Telling Room, a Portland-based youth literacy program, adapted its Week in Review writing program this year at a time when academic models have constantly evolved and adapted to keep children safe and distanced.

Students streamed concerts on Instagram, explored online museum exhibits and consulted with local journalists and others to learn how to observe and write persuasively.

“Although we cannot go places together, there’s still so much for us to see, do and review safely from the comforts of our own home,” said Sonya Tomlinson, the program’s director.

The Telling Room is geared to aspiring writers, and teaches young Mainers to think critically. It’s an essential skill in a world where distinguishing between fact and fiction can be muddied by news feeds and online algorithms that sometimes promote the loudest voices over the most rational.

Zachary Lee, a 12-year-old from Portland, reviewed an Instagram performance earlier this summer from Ahmad Hassan Muhammad (aka the artist Kafari). He’s a jazz pianist and multi-instrumentalist who Lee described as “a ray of light in these trying times” in his review for the Telling Room.

“I’d never seen anyone play rhythm bones before,” Lee wrote. “It’s like nothing you’ve ever seen and it’s captivating to watch.”

In a review from 12-year-old Vagni Das of Yarmouth, the student detailed how two artists spray-painted the interior of a 100-year-old train car owned by Bissell Brothers Brewing Co. in Milo and gave it new life.

“The blend of colors and the smooth texture with precise lines made these train cars a truly delectable treat for the eyes,” Das wrote.

Alex Wu, a 13-year-old from Scarborough, explored how a Yarmouth restaurateur adapted his business plans in the middle of the pandemic.

“When the coronavirus global pandemic started and everybody was forced to go into quarantine, the owner made the hard decision of turning their fine-dining restaurant to a humble takeout restaurant to better fit the current conditions of the world,” Wu wrote.

He ultimately gave the place a mixed review, calling out his double-patty burger for being a bit “messy” and heavy on the sauce.

“I also had to remove the pickles from the burger because I didn’t want to get pickles stuck in my braces for an hour, and as such I was not able to taste the full flavor,” he wrote.

But overall Wu said he’d recommend the place “if you want comfort food or just don’t have the time to make dinner.”

The Bangor Daily News has partnered with the Telling Room to showcase these budding young journalists as they turn a critical eye toward the world in which we live.

Click on the headlines below to explore more work from these young journalists.