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Sharing Her Thoughts about Remote Learning

To read Jocelyn Knight’s guest column, go to Winston-Salem Journal

Knight 1 By Kim Underwood

Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools

APRIL 1, 2021 – As a seventh-grader at Meadowlark Middle, Jocelyn Knight knows first-hand what life is truly like for students learning remotely.

Along the way, she has learned that the opinions expressed by some people about it don’t always reflect her personal experiences.

Jocelyn reads the Winston-Salem Journal online.

“I like knowing what is going on in the world,” she said.

One day, in early March, it occurred to her that writing a piece to submit as a “guest column” might be a good way to share her thoughts with the wider community.

“I really wanted to get my voice out there,” Jocelyn said.

Although writing the column took some time, it went smoothly.

“It was very straightforward,” she said.

When she submitted the column, her expectations weren’t high.

“I didn’t think they were going to publish it,” Jocelyn said.

She didn’t hear anything one way or the other until a Monday when she joined teacher Kathryne Welborn’s math class. Welborn had seen the column and congratulated Jocelyn on having it published.

“I was really excited,” Jocelyn said.

When she told her father, John Knight, it was news to him. As she passed on the news to other family members as well as teachers and friends, it was news to them as well.

“She didn't tell anyone that she had submitted an opinion article to the journal,” Knight said. “She just went and did it.”

Knight feels blessed to have Jocelyn as a daughter.

“Jocelyn is special for more reasons than I can begin to describe,” he said. 

“I am forever impressed by her. I'm impressed by her kindness, optimism, and self-motivation.” 

Knight 2 “She's been writing stories since the first grade. The first stories were small and scrawled in letters I could barely read, but they were interesting when she started explaining.  Over time, her reading and writing got more complicated. I knew she had talent when she won a school competition in the fifth grade for a story she wrote. Since then her writing has only gotten better.”

“I'm proud of her achievements.  I'm proud of how hard she works.”

When you read the column, you may notice that the grammar is impeccable.

“Grammar is very important,” Jocelyn said.

Meadowlark Middle is an excellent school with excellent teachers, Jocelyn said. “They are all amazing. They do a wonderful job.”

And she does well there.

Jocelyn expects writing to continue to be an important part of her life. For a career, she envisions writing for an online newspaper or other online publication.

And she will continue writing fiction. Some of her stories are already posted online, and she is at work on a novel. It’s about a girl named Emma who discovers that the man her mother plans to marry is a murderer. Her mother is dismissive so it’s up to Emma…  

After Jocelyn is done with her schoolwork for the day, she often works on her own writing for another couple of hours. 

Another one of Jocelyn’s teachers is Katie Gioello, who teaches AIG (Academically Intellectually Gifted) English.

“She is a motivated learner and has not allowed the struggles of virtual learning to hinder her gifted abilities,” Gioello said. 

“Jocelyn is curious and eager to learn, which has contributed to her success in my class.”  

Jocelyn has routinely used her gifts to express her thoughts through writing, in which she excels.”

“I thoroughly look forward to reading Jocelyn's written responses, especially when she has an opportunity to complete a creative writing task.  Her use of descriptive language, as well as her application of our skills, is what makes Jocelyn stand out.”

“She is reflective, fierce, and is not afraid to speak her mind. These qualities, I'm sure, is what will continue to help Jocelyn maneuver any obstacle thrown her way.”

Jocelyn does a lot of reading – much of it mystery or adventure, and, at Meadowlark, she participated in “Battle of the Books” a competition in which students compete with students at other schools to answer questions based on books from the “Battle of the Books” reading list.

One of the favorite books is The Iron Trial, a “Battle of the Books” selection in which a father warns his son to say away from a school for magic. 

Knight 3 Walter Carmichael, who as School Librarian, serves as the advisor for team.

“Jocelyn is a highly focused and motivated student who loves to share her knowledge with confidence,” Carmichael said.

“She was a leader on our team and sets high goals for herself.”

Jocelyn also enjoys creating art – drawings, watercolors, acrylic paintings. While she reads, writes or pursues her art, she has a black cat named Luna to keep her company.

Jocelyn is also training for a 5-kilometer race.

Here is one of the stories that Jocelyn has written:

THE WITCH’S TREAT

by Jocelyn Knight

Katherine and Jason got married on a perfect day in a perfect church and went on a perfect honeymoon across the Atlantic, and then when they finally got back home, Jason died. It was a car accident. They had been driving back from the airport, ready to start their lives together when a black cat wandered out in the middle of the road and Katherine, still bleary eyed from a long flight, jerked the wheel to the right and swerved off the road, straight into an old oak tree.

Jason wasn't wearing his seat belt. He flew through the front windshield. The paramedics would later say he died before his body even hit the ground.

Katherine's head ached, and she couldn't move her right arm. It hung limp by her side. I must have dislocated my shoulder, she thought. There was blood on the steering wheel from where her head had slammed against it. The airbags had failed to deploy.

A wave of dizziness caused her eyes to roll back in her head, but she bit her tongue and forced herself to focus. She had to get to Jason. She had to help him. For better or worse, she thought, those were our vows, and this certainly felt like worse to her.

The door was wedged shut, but after some effort, she managed to push it open. The exertion left her weary, and she half fell out of the car. Weakly, she sobbed. Weakly, she cried out her husband's name, but he didn't answer, of course.

The black cat sat in the road and licked its paw as Katherine tried to crawl out of the crumpled vehicle. When she got free, she rested on the ground, exhausted. The black cat stood and walked over to her. “Meow,” it said.

Katherine opened her eyes and saw the cat before her. She tried to stand, but collapsed. She didn't have the strength.

“Meow,” the cat said again.

It tried to rub up against her, but she pushed it away. “Leave me alone,” she said.

The cat sat down, sighed, and said, “I can't help but feel like this is my fault.”

“What?” Katherine replied.

“I said I can't help but feel like this is my fault.”

Katherine stared with her mouth hanging open for a few moments, and then she said, “How hard did I hit my head?”

The cat nodded, as if it understood. “Listen,” it said. “I'll make a deal with you. If you promise to feed me milk and tuna at night and shredded cheese every morning, then I'll be your familiar.”

“Familiar?” Katherine didn't understand.

“Yes, your familiar. You know, your black cat. I'll be your link to magic. With me, you'll have all the power of a witch.”

“Witch? I don't.... My husband. We have to help Jason.” Katherine tried to lift herself again, but she still didn't have the strength.

The cat stood, turned a slow circle and sat back down, as if it were trying to get more comfortable. “I don't know if I'd call him your husband,” it said.

“Jason is my husband. We were just married. We're getting back from our honeymoon.” Fresh tears bulged anew in Katherine's eyes.

“Oh, that's so sad. All I meant was that he's not your husband anymore. Till death do us part, and all that, you know? I can already smell him. Oh, no. Wait. Don't cry. Oh, stop screaming, please. Please calm down. Yes, yes, he's dead.” The cat paused and a sparkle flashed across the slit-like pupil of its eye. “Of course, he doesn't have to be. I can help you bring him back.”

Jason's death had been sudden, but Katherine's grief lingered. She had taken the cat into her home and discovered it had a name. Shadow. She also discovered that Shadow was a “he” and not an “it,” although she had trouble thinking of him that way. There was something distinctly unnatural and unnerving about Shadow.

Evil maybe? Katherine shook her head, once again trying to dismiss such thoughts. Shadow had offered her a chance at bringing her husband back. She should be thankful, she told herself, not suspicious.

At first, Katherine was convinced she had gone crazy, but the more time she spent around the talking cat, the more it seemed okay and almost normal, sort of.

It....

No. He is not an it. It is a he, Katherine reminded herself.

He did little but sleep and eat. Katherine provided shredded cheese in the morning and a bowl of milk at night along with a small platter of tuna, all per the deal she had made with the cat.

However, the cat seemed to be doing nothing in return.

The days were mostly blank and empty as Katherine went about her life in numb shock. At night, she curled up in Jason's favorite recliner, which still smelled like him, and cried until she fell asleep. Through it all, Shadow just watched her, speaking rarely and never saying anything more about witches or power. That is, until he woke up one morning and realized there was no shredded cheese prepared for him.

He went immediately to Katherine and rubbed against her leg. She frowned.

“Meow,” he said. “Meow. Meow.”

“Use your words,” Katherine replied.

“Very well,” Shadow said. “I'm starving. I am literally starving. You are killing me. Look at my bowl. It's empty!”

“And it will stay empty until you bring back my husband!” Katherine's face turned red. The emotion buried inside of her was finally beginning to bubble to the surface.

“We had a deal,” Shadow said.

“I've been feeding you for weeks. What have you done to honor our deal?”

Shadow said, “I'm weak. I need food. Meow.”

Katherine picked up Shadow's bowl and sprinkled a handful of shredded cheese inside. She then dumped it in the trash can.

Shadow hissed, but Katherine stomped her foot on the kitchen floor. “No,” she said. “Bad kitty!”

The cat crouched and gave a deep meow, revealing a hint of anger in the back of its throat.

“You'll get your cheese when you tell me how to bring Jason back.” Katherine sprinkled more cheese in the bowl. “Do you want it, or shall I throw it away also?”

Shadow relaxed and sighed. “Fine,” he said. “I'll tell you. What you want is big. It's no less than making the dead walk again. To do that, we have to wait until October.”

“Why October?”

“Why October?” Shadow said, mocking Katherine. “Because that's only the most important month in the year for witches, you dummy. We have to wait until Halloween, when the dark powers are aligned. When the spirits are the most restless and hungry for life.”

Halloween, Katherine thought. It was only a couple months away. Only a couple months until she could see Jason again. She could wait that long. She could make it that long. She started to cry.

“Now can I please have my shredded cheese?” Shadow asked.

Katherine wiped away her tears and blew her nose. “One more thing,” she said. “What do we have to do? On the night, I mean. When it's Halloween, what do we have to do?”

Shadow nodded. “I'll have to start teaching you the spell. And there's one more thing we'll need.”

“What?” Katherine asked.

“A shovel.”

Over the next two months, Shadow taught Katherine the spell she would need to know to raise her husband back from the dead. A big portion of the spell included a complicated recipe that would have to be prepared, but when Katherine looked closely at the ingredients, she realized it amounted to chocolate, caramel, and nuts.

“Am I supposed to be making a candy bar?” she asked.

“I don't know what a candy bar is,” Shadow said. “You're supposed to be making a Witch's Treat. It's based on a rare and ancient recipe. It's said to be so sweet and delicious that even the dead can't resist the allure, so it'll make Jackson more inclined to answer your call on All Hallows Eve.”

“Jason,” Katherine said.

“What?”

“You said Jackson. My husband's name is Jason.”

“Yes, yes, Jason, Jackson, Jerry, whatever, just don't stop stirring. You want the cocoa smooth, not lumpy.”

It was Saturday, October 31rst, which was also known as Halloween, or, as Shadow put it, the time of year known as All Hallows Eve.

This was the night when children went from home to home, begging treats and threatening tricks. It was the time when even the most innocent dressed as monsters and murderers. When kindergartners painted their faces to look like the dead, and reputable stores sold vials of liquid that looked like blood.

Katherine's hands were shaking as they pulled into the parking lot outside the graveyard. She had the Witch's Treats with her (which really were just candy bars), and a shovel. She had also brought a bouquet of flowers because it felt like the right thing to do.

She walked with Shadow to her husband's grave. I still have time to turn around, she thought. I don't have to do this. She put the flowers on his tombstone.

Life had not been fair to her. It had given her love. It had given her a taste of how good things can be. And then it had ripped it all away, like stealing the floor from beneath her feet.

What would Jason say? What would he want her to do? Would he want to live again, or would he want her to move on, to let him rest?

“There's only one way to find out,” Shadow said.

“What?” she asked. But she didn't have to ask. She already knew what Shadow meant. There was only one way to find out what Jason would want. She planted the shovel in the ground. The only way to know for sure, she realized, was by asking him. She began to dig.

The human body is typically buried six feet deep. Luckily for Katherine, the soil at the graveyard was soft and easy to dig, otherwise she never would have finished in one night. Even so, she had to dig for well over four hours before the tip of her shovel hit the top of Jason's coffin.

She froze.

He was there, under her shovel, under a thin layer of dirt, under the lid of a casket. I can't do this, she thought. I shouldn't do this.

“Excellent,” Shadow said. “Now clean off the top and widen the side there. You should be able to pop the lid right open.”

Katherine swallowed, but her throat was so dry it felt like the swallow got stuck halfway down. She pulled the shovel closer to her chest. It scraped across the top of the lid that separated her from her husband.

But was it really her husband? Or was it a memory? A box full of bones.

Katherine fell on her knees and let her tears out. “I miss you,” she said, her blistered hands rubbing the top of the coffin and smearing the thin layer of dirt. “I miss you so much.” She sat there for a long while before standing back up and climbing out of the hole.

“I can't do it,” she said to Shadow. “I have to let him go.”

Shadow nodded. “You're not a very good witch,” he said.

Katherine laughed and rubbed her runny nose against the sleeve of her ruined sweater. “I know. Let's go home.”

“Can I still have tuna and milk tonight?” Shadow asked.

“Sure,” she said. “Maybe you can even help me finish all these Witch's Treats.”

THE END

Kim Underwood
rkunderwood@wsfcs.k12.nc.us
336.727.2696 Ext. 70114