People have been coming to Gwin Oaks Elementary School to stand in its parking lot in silence and remembrance for the last week.

They are coming to the school to look at a sea of 10,000 small white flags placed by the school’s students for a solemn purpose: to honor the lives of Georgians who have died from COVID-19. The flags were placed by the students earlier this month and are expected to stay up through the end of January.

“What we found is we went back looking at the camera footage from out front and people were coming all during the day and the night and just standing there and kind of watching the flags and putting out a flag,” Principal Craig Barlow said.

The flags were placed on Jan. 14 with students coming out by class to put the flags in the ground, with digital learning students invited to either come up when their class was planting flags or later in the days.

“We wanted to recognize the people in the state of Georgia who passed away as a result of COVID,” Barlow said. “My wife pointed out that she had seen a story about, in Piedmont Park, they were setting up 10,000 flags in memory of those in Georgia who passed away.

“And so, I said, ‘10,000?’ That just struck me as what a big number that was. The other thing that I thought about was my school has 1,000 students and I thought, ‘That’s 10 times the number of kids who go to our school.’ “

Barlow discussed the idea of doing something similar to what was done in Piedmont Park at Gwin Oaks. He and the school’s staff realized they and the student body have “a lot of connections” to people who have passed away from the disease, whether they be family members, family friends or other people that they were close to.

The decision was then made to go forward with the project. People who knew someone who had died from COVID could write that person’s name on a flag.

“A lot of these children who had deaths in their family, they couldn’t have a memorial or they couldn’t go see these people in the hospital, so it was just sort of left hanging out there,” Barlow said. “This was really just their way of honoring them. We didn’t call it a memorial. We just called it a day of honor for the pandemic victims.”

The principal went on to estimate that about 100 flags have names written on them.

“So, out of 1,000 kids at our school, you can do the math and say one-out-of-10 of our families knows someone who died or as a relative who passed away,” he said. “It’s pretty revealing. When you go out and just start walking and you see the names, like if you walk all of the way down the front of our school and see the names, it’s amazing how many of them have names on them. (It’s) much more than I thought there would be.”

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I'm a Crawford Long baby who grew up in Marietta and eventually wandered to the University of Southern Mississippi for college. Earned a BA in journalism (double minor in political science and history). Previously worked in Florida and Clayton County.

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