Bernal Heights kids, teens launch quarantine-inspired community newspaper

"Six Feet of Separation" is a newspaper written entirely by children and young adults in Bernal Heights. | Screenshots: Six Feet of Separation
By Nikki Collister - Published on March 27, 2020.

With San Francisco's public schools now closed through May 1, many kids and teenagers have had to adjust to taking classes at home, seeing friends remotely, and spending a lot of time with family.

But with outdoor time drastically reduced, many have also been plagued with bouts of boredom. When the online homework has been turned in and you're done playing virtual games with your friends, what's left to do? 

For dozens of Bernal Heights' kids, a new pastime has emerged: writing for their own local newspaper. 

"Six Feet of Separation" is the Bay Area's newest online publication, taking its name from the now-familiar social distancing advice to stay at least six feet from others while outdoors.

Organized by writer and editor Chris Colin, who lives in Bernal Heights, the first issue features the work of 40 young writers and artists. It was published online on Wednesday. 

"I'd never considered becoming a kids' pandemic publisher before," mused Colin, who's spent the past week and a half working at home as his children, 11-year-old Cora and 7-year-old Casper, attend school virtually. 

"Then the world turned inside out and a bunch of children, mine included, suddenly found themselves with a lot of new feelings and a lot of unstructured time."

Chris, Cora, and Casper Colin in their Bernal Heights home. | Photo: Courtesy of Chris Colin

In an attempt to give local youngsters a fun activity to fill the time, Colin sent off an invitation to neighboring friends and family, encouraging creative works from Bernal Heights residents aged 1 to 17.

Submissions started pouring in right away, from personal essays to TV show reviews to quarantine-themed horoscopes.

As word spread, young contributors outside the neighborhood sent in their work too: dispatches from Lake Tahoe and Cole Valley, which Colin included in a special "Foreign Correspondents" section.

While many of the newspaper's pieces are inspired by the coronavirus pandemic, others draw from daily life in Bernal Heights.

One writer shared a description and photograph of the American Kestrel, a type of falcon that can be found on Bernal Hill. Another imagines shelter-in-place, from a cat's perspective.

A review of "Tonight's Dinner" by the paper's food critic, age 7, gave last week's linguine with meat sauce 3 out of 5 stars, complimenting the meat sauce but finding the pasta "a little too flat."

Readers have also been treated to poems, how-to articles, and creative nonfiction, accompanied by drawings, comics, and photographs.

The newspaper includes several recipes for San Franciscans who have started cooking more at home.

Colin's own kids shared an advice column called "Tips for Squabbling," outlining two different techniques for sibling rivalry. Cora suggests gathering plenty of evidence before telling on a sibling, while Casper advises against the practice, offering alternatives like "kick, punch, or trip them."

The pair told a reporter that the column is meant to be humorous — they actually get along quite well, and have been listening to podcasts and making papier-machê crafts to pass the time.

While they don't mind virtual Zoom classes, the Colins said they'd still rather be back in school, if they had the choice.

For his contribution, 14-year-old Griffin Morgan created a map of Cortland Avenue businesses, color-coded to indicate which businesses were open, closed, or operating under altered hours. (It's also available online, with detailed information about each restaurant's updated hours and takeout options.)

He told Hoodline that although his family has mostly been cooking at home, they try to order takeout at least a couple of times a week to support struggling local businesses.

Map by Griffin Morgan

Delilah Kaden, also 14, submitted a "Literary Roundup" with book recommendations for both children and teens. She decided to emphasize books with a touch of fantasy, "or that take place entirely in other worlds, since we are all stuck indoors right now."

She said she enjoyed "reminiscing about books that I loved as a little kid and still love, and getting the opportunity to have other people read something that I wrote." 

Thanks to tips from media-savvy neighbors, the paper was first shared publicly on popular neighborhood blog Bernalwood.

Colin said the name was also a group effort — kids from all around the hill sent in their suggestions, then voted on their favorite. Rejected alternatives included Young Bernalists, Bernal Beat, and Bernal Butts (which narrowly lost the popular vote).

And while all of the contributors have had to write from the confines of their individual homes, community spirit is high.

"Bernal is a warm, creative, community-minded place," Colin said, joking that all children in the neighborhood are born holding colored pencils. "Everything feels so out of control now, so giving the smallest people some kind of platform of their own, however tiny and ramshackle, seems like a good thing."

Kaden, author of the Literary Roundup, says she hopes readers will take away "a sense of community and support."

"My greatest hope overall is that people walk away from reading [the newspaper] with a smile on their face," she said.

Six Feet of Separation is currently accepting submissions for its second issue. Interested young writers, illustrators, designers, and editors from around the hill (and beyond) are encouraged to reach out to [email protected].

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