Nearly one year to the day after the COVID-19 school shutdown, Rachel Manack’s digital design class at Cambria Heights High School began a “Last Photo Project” to create a digital time capsule of what life was like before the pandemic.

“There’s been so many changes over the last year,” she said.

Manack was inspired to start this project by the NBC News initiative of the same name.

The idea is to find and collect the last photo on a cellphone or camera and create a collage of a time before face masks and social distancing.

Students in the class recently wrapped up their project and posted the finished slideshow on the district’s website and Facebook page.

The group received 88 submissions from students, teachers and other staff.

Manack said they collected a variety of images with captions through a Google form the students created.

Submitted photos ranged from pets and family shots to concerts, ski trips, vacations and even school activities.

Manack described the shutdown as a “monumental” moment that everyone will remember.

She said it’s similar to people recalling where they were on Sept. 11, 2001.

Her last photo was of students sitting on the floor stacking books for a different project.

Throughout the past few weeks, her entire class helped build the time capsule through background design and collection work.

“It was fun and I enjoyed it,” sophomore Joseph Snedden said.

He helped assemble and organize the submitted images.

One that stood out to him was the student section at the District 6 girl’s basketball championship game last March.

His and a number of other submissions were of the same evening.

“It’s so heartbreaking,” 16-year-old Rylee Bernecky said. “A time like that went downhill.”

The sophomore not only helped put the slideshow together, but she is also a guard for the girl’s basketball team who was at the game a year ago.

She and classmate Martina White shared the final design work.

“It was pretty cool to see all the stuff we used to do but can’t really do anymore,” White said.

The 15-year-old thought the project was a good idea.

Bernecky agreed.

“Overall, I feel like it was a really good project,” she said.

White added that she’d like to see it organized on a grander scale – asking for submissions from nurses, doctors and other front-line workers.

Joshua Byers is a reporter for The Tribune-Democrat. Follow him on Twitter @Journo_Josh.

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