$8.8 billion from the federal government. Ben Watkins, the director of the Florida Division of Bond Finance, said the state was using the relief money to invest in infrastructure and water quality projects and directing some of its surplus funds to hurricane preparedness.

He described the windfall as staggering.

“It’s a good problem to have,” Mr. Watkins said, “but that doesn’t mean that it’s not excessive.”

States have substantial leeway in how they use the money, though they are prohibited from using the funds to subsidize tax cuts. Several Republican-led states have sued the Treasury Department, arguing that the restriction infringes on state sovereignty.

The lawsuits do not appear to be slowing the delivery of the funds. Ohio failed to win an injunction blocking the restrictions from being enforced this month, and Missouri had its case thrown out of court after a federal judge said the state did not demonstrate that the law caused it harm.

$26 million corporate tax cut last week, and lawmakers have told The Omaha World-Herald that they believe that by keeping the federal funds in a separate account from the state’s general fund, they will be in compliance with the law.

Nicholas Fandos and Dana Goldstein contributed reporting.

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Not Your Pre-Pandemic Las Vegas

A decade ago, after a rained-out Thanksgiving desert camping trip with our five kids, my wife, Kristin, and I headed to the nearest available lodging, the now-shuttered Hard Rock Casino in Las Vegas. Watching our brood eat their Thanksgiving meal as cigarette smoke and slot-machine clamor wafted over their cheeseburgers, Kristin and I locked eyes with an unspoken message: We ar­­e the world’s worst parents.

We have avoided Las Vegas with the kids since then, but an aborted drive to slushy Aspen this April with three of our heirs caused us to pause in Vegas. At the time, the city was just awakening from its Covid slumber, with mandatory masks and limited capacity in most indoor spaces, traffic so light that cars were drag-racing down the normally packed Strip, and a lingering, troubling question over the whole place: Will this reopening really be safe?

But extraordinary things have been happening during this slumber, and while we were only going to spend one night there, we had so much fun that we ended up staying four. At first we spent most of our time in the relative safety of the outdoors, but then we started to relax along with the rest of the city, drowning our hands beneath the ubiquitous liquid sanitizer dispensers, masking up and heading indoors.

I knew things had shifted in Sin City when, while maneuvering the minivan through some seemingly dicey neighborhood between Downtown and the Strip, I noted on the back alley wall of a hair salon a striking mural depicting the cult outsider artist Henry Darger’s seven Vivian Girl warriors in their trademark yellow dresses. What were the Vivian Girls doing here?

Makers & Finders — and wandered along Spring Mountain Road, the hub of the city’s Chinatown, rapidly expanding westward. In the midcentury mecca of East Fremont Street, a $350 million investment by the tech titan Tony Hsieh, who died last year, has produced a boulevard of fantastical art installations, restored buildings and a sculptural playground surrounded by stacked shipping containers converted to boutiques and cafes, all guarded by a giant, fire-spewing, steel praying mantis.

“Vegas is going through a cultural renaissance,” a former member of the city’s Arts Commission, Brian “Paco” Alvarez, told me in a recent telephone interview. “A lot of the local culture that comes out of a city with two million unusually creative people didn’t stop during the pandemic.”

Area15, which opened in February in a mysterious, airport-hanger-size, windowless building two miles west of the Strip. Imagine an urban Burning Man mall (indeed, many of the sculptures and installations came from the annual arts festival held in northern Nevada), with some dozen tenants providing everything from virtual reality trips to nonvirtual ax throwing, accompanied by Day-Glo color schemes, electronic music, giant interactive art installations and guests flying overhead on seats attached to ceiling rails. Face masks are currently only mandatory in Area15 for self-identified unvaccinated people, though some of the attractions within still require face masks for everyone. Everywhere, we encountered the constant presence of cleaning attendants spraying and wiping surfaces.

Blue Man Group, who was bringing his creative magic to Area15 in the form of a “Psychedelic Art House Meets Carnival Funhouse” called Wink World (adult tickets start at $18). Wink World is centered around six rooms with infinity mirror boxes reflecting Slinkys, plasma balls, fan spinners, Hoberman Spheres and ribbons dancing to an ethereal soundtrack of electronic music, rhythmic chanting and heavy breathing.

“I worked on these installations for six years in my living room in New York,” Mr. Wink told me. “I was trying to evoke psychedelic experiences without medicine.”

My unmedicated children were transfixed, as if these familiar toys frolicking into eternity were totems to their own personal nirvanas. I’ve never seen them stand so still in front of an art exhibit.

Omega Mart (adult admissions start at $45, face mask and temperature check mandatory), the biggest attraction in the complex, lines one side of the complex’s atrium and seemed — at first — to provide a banal respite from Area15’s sensory overload. Along the sale aisles I found Nut Free Salted Peanuts, Gut Monkey Ginger Ale and cans of Camels Implied Chicken Sop.

Meow Wolf (the name derived from pulling two random words from a hat during their first meeting), Omega Mart is an amalgamation of some 325 artists’ creations tied together by disparate overlapping story lines which one can follow — or not.

For a short time, I tracked the story of the takeover of Omega Mart’s corporate headquarters by a hilariously manipulative New Agey daughter, and then got sidelined into the tale of a teen herbalist leading a rebellion to something else. I have no idea what I experienced other than that Brian Eno composed the music to one of the installations. None of my kids could explain what they experienced either, other than something mind-expanding. If it wasn’t for dinner, we might still be in there.

Raku. Step behind an understated white backlit sign and you enter an aged wood interior of an intimate restaurant that you might find off a Kyoto alley. We slid into the family-style tables behind the main dining room and commenced to feast. There’s a $100 tasting menu if you are feeling adult, but my tribe ordered cream-like tofu with dried fish, foie gras skewers and a dozen other items.

Chinatown became our go-to-spot for snacks and boba tea between adventures. A favorite spot became Pho 90, a low-key Vietnamese cafe with outstanding noodle dishes and exquisitely layered banh mi sandwiches for picnics in the wild.

Red Rock Canyon, 17 miles west of the Strip, is like walking into a Road Runner cartoon with a Technicolor ballet of clashing tectonic formations. We grabbed our admittedly reluctant brood on a 2.4-mile, round-trip hike on the Keystone Thrust Trail through a series of gullies until we emerged above epic white limestone cliffs jutting through the ocher-colored mountains. Here we had our Vietnamese picnic overlooking the monolithic casinos in the distance.

Rail Explorers has set up rail bike tours on the abandoned tracks leading to the Hoover Dam construction site. We booked a sunset tour (from $85 to $150 for a tandem quad bike). After some quick instruction, we, along with three dozen other visitors, climbed into an 800-pound, four-person Korean-made bike rig and, giving the group ahead of us a three-minute head start for some space, started peddling.

Our route was along four miles of desert track gently sloping into a narrowing canyon pass. As we effortlessly peddled at 10 miles per hour, we noticed that the spikes holding down the railroad ties were often crooked or missing. “I bet these were all driven in by hand,” my teenage son, Cody, a history buff, noted.

In the enveloping dusk, we glimpsed shadows moving along the sagebrush: bighorn sheep, goats and other critters emerging for their nocturnal wanderings. But the most surreal sight was at the end of the ride, where a giant backlit sign for a truck stop casino appeared over a desert butte — Vegas was beckoning us back, but now we welcomed the summons. Here we were, peddling into the sunset, feeling more athletic, cool and (gasp!) enlightened than when we first rolled into Vegas four days ago. Oh what good parents we were!

“The moniker of ‘Sin City’ is totally wrong,” Mr. Alvarez told me, “if you know where to look.”

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Everything Was Canceled in 2020. What About 2021?

Early last year, as international lockdowns upended daily life, they took with them, one by one, many of the major cultural and sporting events that dot the calendar each year. The N.B.A. suspended its season, the French Open was postponed for several months and the Tokyo Olympics were delayed a year. The future of the Glastonbury Festival and the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival were in doubt. It was a bleak time.

Recently, as conditions in many places around the world have slowly begun to improve, and as countries have begun mass vaccination campaigns, some events and cultural staples have made plans to return, albeit with modifications. While few events, if any, have plans to go ahead free of restrictions this year, some are taking a hybrid approach. Others remain postponed or canceled.

Here’s the status of some of the major events around the world.

scheduled to begin on July 23 with an opening ceremony. The bulk of the athletic events will begin the next day. The first round of Wimbledon begins on June 28 and will run through mid-July. Officials said they were working toward a spectator capacity of at least 25 percent.

scheduled for Oct. 11, and the 50th New York City Marathon is set for Nov. 7.

The 105th Indianapolis 500 will go on as planned on May 30. Officials will allow about 135,000 spectators in — 40 percent of the venue’s capacity. The event was organized with state and local health officials and was approved by the Marion County Public Health Department, race officials said.

The French Open, one of the premier tennis competitions, has been postponed one week to a new start date of May 24. The decision was made in agreement with the authorities in France and the governing bodies of international tennis, said officials, who want the tournament played in front of the largest possible number of fans.

is canceled again this year.

it would not take place this summer.

The Essence Festival of Culture, which usually draws more than a half million people to New Orleans over the Fourth of July weekend every year, will host a hybrid experience this year over two weekends: June 25-27 and July 2-4.

Headliners like Billie Eilish, Post Malone and ASAP Rocky will take the stage at the Governors Ball Music Festival, which is scheduled for Sept. 24-26 at Citi Field in Queens. Organizers say the event will return to its typical June dates in 2022.

Burning Man, the annual countercultural arts event that typically draws tens of thousands of people to Black Rock Desert in Nevada, has been canceled again this year because of the pandemic. It will return in 2022, organizers said.

After being canceled last year, the Austin City Limits Music Festival, the event in the capital of Texas, is scheduled to return to Zilker Park on Oct. 1-3 and Oct. 8-10.

on Sept. 13. A second event is scheduled for May 2022.

NYC Pride 2021 will move forward in June with virtual and in-person events. The Pride March, which was canceled last year, will be virtual this time. (San Francisco Pride, also in June, is planning similar adjustments, while Atlanta Pride is planning to hold an in-person event in October.)

from Aug. 10. In order to keep concertgoers safe, organizers said events will not have intermissions and its venue will have a limited number of available seats. Similarly, the Salzburg Festival in Austria kicks off in mid July with modifications.

The Edinburgh International Festival, a showcase for world theater, dance and music in the Scottish city since 1947, will run Aug. 7-29. Performances will take place in temporary outdoor pavilions with covered stages and socially distanced seating.

E3, one of the video game industry’s most popular conventions where developers showcase the latest news and games, will be virtual this year from June 12-15.

The New York International Auto Show, which showcases the newest and latest automobiles from dozens of brands, will run Aug. 20-29. The event last year was postponed and eventually canceled because of the pandemic.

The Cannes Film Festival in the South of France, one of the movie industry’s most revered and celebrated events, has been postponed to July 6-17 from mid-May. The 2021 edition of the event, which was canceled last year, is currently scheduled to be in person.

After more than a year of no theater performances, Broadway shows will start selling tickets for full-capacity shows with some performances starting on Sept. 14. (Some West End shows will resume as early as May 17.)

After being virtual last year, New York Comic-Con will return with a physical event Oct. 7-10 at the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center in Manhattan. The convention will run at reduced capacity to ensure social distancing, organizers said. This year’s Comic-Con International event, which is normally held in July in San Diego, has been postponed until summer 2022. There are plans for a smaller event called Comic-Con Special Edition however, that will be held in person in November.

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Cirque du Soleil’s Return Could Be Its Most Challenging Feat Yet

Yasmine Khalil, who recently stepped down as Cirque’s executive producer after 25 years at the company, said the group retained a sparkling global brand, while the pandemic offered the radically scaled-down organization the opportunity to reinvent itself.

But Ms. Khalil said the dusting-off of decades-old Las Vegas stalwarts underscored that in the era of lethal coronavirus variants and decimated profits, Cirque was not prepared to take creative or financial risks. Innovating is hard, she added, “when the primary goal is to break even and to focus on getting people to shows without them getting sick.”

“Would I go sit inside a theater with 2,000 people and wear a mask for two hours?” she asked. “Probably not.”

Originating in the 1980s as a troupe of Québécois stilt-walkers, fire breathers and other performers, Cirque du Soleil went on to reinvent the circus with jaw-dropping acrobatics, live music, flamboyant costumes and monumental, if thinly plotted, spectacle. At its height in 2019, when Cirque had seven simultaneous shows in Las Vegas, it was drawing nearly 10,000 theatergoers nightly.

“Mystère” and “O” — scheduled to open June 28 and July 1, respectively — will operate at full capacity in theaters of 1,806 and 1,616 seats without social distancing and at prepandemic ticket prices, said Daniel Lamarre, Cirque du Soleil’s chief executive. Employees will be tested regularly, and vaccination, while voluntary, will be strongly encouraged. The aim is to open the remaining three other Las Vegas shows by the end of the year.

Under new rules by Clark County, where Las Vegas is, shows can proceed with no social distancing once 60 percent of the state’s eligible population has received at least one Covid-19 vaccine dose. Masks will be required. On May 6, Nevada reported that nearly 47 percent had received at least one shot.

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The Lithium Gold Rush: Inside the Race to Power Electric Vehicles

Atop a long-dormant volcano in northern Nevada, workers are preparing to start blasting and digging out a giant pit that will serve as the first new large-scale lithium mine in the United States in more than a decade — a new domestic supply of an essential ingredient in electric car batteries and renewable energy.

The mine, constructed on leased federal lands, could help address the near total reliance by the United States on foreign sources of lithium.

But the project, known as Lithium Americas, has drawn protests from members of a Native American tribe, ranchers and environmental groups because it is expected to use billions of gallons of precious ground water, potentially contaminating some of it for 300 years, while leaving behind a giant mound of waste.

“Blowing up a mountain isn’t green, no matter how much marketing spin people put on it,” said Max Wilbert, who has been living in a tent on the proposed mine site while two lawsuits seeking to block the project wend their way through federal courts.

Electric cars and renewable energy may not be as green as they appear. Production of raw materials like lithium, cobalt and nickel that are essential to these technologies are often ruinous to land, water, wildlife and people.

That environmental toll has often been overlooked in part because there is a race underway among the United States, China, Europe and other major powers. Echoing past contests and wars over gold and oil, governments are fighting for supremacy over minerals that could help countries achieve economic and technological dominance for decades to come.

Developers and lawmakers see this Nevada project, given final approval in the last days of the Trump administration, as part of the opportunity for the United States to become a leader in producing some of these raw materials as President Biden moves aggressively to fight climate change. In addition to Nevada, businesses have proposed lithium production sites in California, Oregon, Tennessee, Arkansas and North Carolina.

But traditional mining is one of the dirtiest businesses out there. That reality is not lost on automakers and renewable-energy businesses.

“Our new clean-energy demands could be creating greater harm, even though its intention is to do good,” said Aimee Boulanger, executive director for the Initiative for Responsible Mining Assurance, a group that vets mines for companies like BMW and Ford Motor. “We can’t allow that to happen.”

assembled by Bloomberg, and a hint of the frenzy underway.

Some of those investors are backing alternatives including a plan to extract lithium from briny water beneath California’s largest lake, the Salton Sea, about 600 miles south of the Lithium Americas site.

At the Salton Sea, investors plan to use specially coated beads to extract lithium salt from the hot liquid pumped up from an aquifer more than 4,000 feet below the surface. The self-contained systems will be connected to geothermal power plants generating emission-free electricity. And in the process, they hope to generate the revenue needed to restore the lake, which has been fouled by toxic runoff from area farms for decades.

Businesses are also hoping to extract lithium from brine in Arkansas, Nevada, North Dakota and at least one more location in the United States.

The United States needs to quickly find new supplies of lithium as automakers ramp up manufacturing of electric vehicles. Lithium is used in electric car batteries because it is lightweight, can store lots of energy and can be repeatedly recharged. Analysts estimate that lithium demand is going to increase tenfold before the end of this decade as Tesla, Volkswagen, General Motors and other automakers introduce dozens of electric models. Other ingredients like cobalt are needed to keep the battery stable.

Even though the United States has some of the world’s largest reserves, the country today has only one large-scale lithium mine, Silver Peak in Nevada, which first opened in the 1960s and is producing just 5,000 tons a year — less than 2 percent of the world’s annual supply. Most of the raw lithium used domestically comes from Latin America or Australia, and most of it is processed and turned into battery cells in China and other Asian countries.

In March, she announced grants to increase production of crucial minerals. “This is a race to the future that America is going to win,” she said.

So far, the Biden administration has not moved to help push more environmentally friendly options — like lithium brine extraction, instead of open pit mines. The Interior Department declined to say whether it would shift its stand on the Lithium Americas permit, which it is defending in court.

Mining companies and related businesses want to accelerate domestic production of lithium and are pressing the administration and key lawmakers to insert a $10 billion grant program into Mr. Biden’s infrastructure bill, arguing that it is a matter of national security.

“Right now, if China decided to cut off the U.S. for a variety of reasons we’re in trouble,” said Ben Steinberg, an Obama administration official turned lobbyist. He was hired in January by ​Piedmont Lithium, which is working to build an open-pit mine in North Carolina and is one of several companies that have created a trade association for the industry.

Investors are rushing to get permits for new mines and begin production to secure contracts with battery companies and automakers.

Ultimately, federal and state officials will decide which of the two methods — traditional mining or brine extraction — is approved. Both could take hold. Much will depend on how successful environmentalists, tribes and local groups are in blocking projects.

370 feet.

Mr. Bartell’s biggest fear is that the mine will consume the water that keeps his cattle alive. The company has said the mine will consume 3,224 gallons per minute. That could cause the water table to drop on land Mr. Bartell owns by an estimated 12 feet, according to a Lithium Americas consultant.

While producing 66,000 tons a year of battery-grade lithium carbonate, the mine may cause groundwater contamination with metals including antimony and arsenic, according to federal documents.

The lithium will be extracted by mixing clay dug out from the mountainside with as much as 5,800 tons a day of sulfuric acid. This whole process will also create 354 million cubic yards of mining waste that will be loaded with discharge from the sulfuric acid treatment, and may contain modestly radioactive uranium, permit documents disclose.

A December assessment by the Interior Department found that over its 41-year life, the mine would degrade nearly 5,000 acres of winter range used by pronghorn antelope and hurt the habitat of the sage grouse. It would probably also destroy a nesting area for a pair of golden eagles whose feathers are vital to the local tribe’s religious ceremonies.

a lawsuit to try to block the mine.

At the Fort McDermitt Indian Reservation, anger over the project has boiled over, even causing some fights between members as Lithium Americas has offered to hire tribal members in jobs that will pay an average annual wage of $62,675 — twice the county’s per capita income — but that will come with a big trade-off.

“Tell me, what water am I going to drink for 300 years?” Deland Hinkey, a member of the tribe, yelled as a federal official arrived at the reservation in March to brief tribal leaders on the mining plan. “Anybody, answer my question. After you contaminate my water, what I am going to drink for 300 years? You are lying!”

The reservation is nearly 50 miles from the mine site — and far beyond the area where groundwater may be contaminated — but tribe members fear the pollution could spread.

hiring a lobbying team that includes a former Trump White House aide, Jonathan Slemrod.

Lithium Americas, which estimates there is $3.9 billion worth of recoverable lithium at the site, hopes to start mining operations next year. Its largest shareholder is the Chinese company Ganfeng Lithium.

CalEnergy, and another business, Energy Source, have tapped the Buttes’ geothermal heat to produce electricity. The systems use naturally occurring underground steam. This same water is loaded with lithium.

Now, Berkshire Hathaway and two other companies — Controlled Thermal Resources and Materials Research — want to install equipment that will extract lithium after the water passes through the geothermal plants, in a process that will take only about two hours.

Rod Colwell, a burly Australian, has spent much of the last decade pitching investors and lawmakers on putting the brine to use. In February, a backhoe plowed dirt on a 7,000-acre site being developed by his company, Controlled Thermal Resources.

“This is the sweet spot,” Mr. Colwell said. “This is the most sustainable lithium in the world, made in America. Who would have thought it? We’ve got this massive opportunity.”

unemployment rate of nearly 16 percent.

“Our region is very rich in natural resources and mineral resources,” said Luis Olmedo, executive director of Comite Civico del Valle, which represents area farm workers. “However, they’re very poorly distributed. The population has not been afforded a seat at the table.”

The state has given millions in grants to lithium extraction companies, and the Legislature is considering requiring carmakers by 2035 to use California sources for some of the lithium in vehicles they sell in the state, the country’s largest electric-car market.

But even these projects have raised some questions.

Geothermal plants produce energy without emissions, but they can require tens of billions of gallons of water annually for cooling. And lithium extraction from brine dredges up minerals like iron and salt that need to be removed before the brine is injected back into the ground.

Similar extraction efforts at the Salton Sea have previously failed. In 2000, CalEnergy proposed spending $200 million to extract zinc and to help restore the Salton Sea. The company gave up on the effort in 2004.

opened demonstration projects using the brine extraction technology, with Standard Lithium tapping into a brine source already being extracted from the ground by an Arkansas chemical plant, meaning it did not need to take additional water from the ground.

“This green aspect is incredibly important,” said Robert Mintak, chief executive of Standard Lithium, who hopes the company will produce 21,000 tons a year of lithium in Arkansas within five years if it can raise $440 million in financing. “The Fred Flintstone approach is not the solution to the lithium challenge.”

Lilac Solutions, whose clients include Controlled Thermal Resources, is also working on direct lithium extraction in Nevada, North Dakota and at least one other U.S. location that it would not disclose. The company predicts that within five years, these projects could produce about 100,000 tons of lithium annually, or 20 times current domestic production.

Executives from companies like Lithium Americans question if these more innovative approaches can deliver all the lithium the world needs.

But automakers are keen to pursue approaches that have a much smaller impact on the environment.

“Indigenous tribes being pushed out or their water being poisoned or any of those types of issues, we just don’t want to be party to that,” said Sue Slaughter, Ford’s purchasing director for supply chain sustainability. “We really want to force the industries that we’re buying materials from to make sure that they’re doing it in a responsible way. As an industry, we are going to be buying so much of these materials that we do have significant power to leverage that situation very strongly. And we intend to do that.”

Gabriella Angotti-Jones contributed reporting.

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Article on Fourth Grader in ’60 Inspires Journalism Class

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Two years ago, on a soggy January day at the University of Oregon, Peter Laufer, a journalism professor, picked up a copy of The New York Times and presented his students with a reporting challenge.

He read from a feature at the bottom of Page 2 that highlights an article from The Times’s archives each day. It covered the experience in early 1960 of a fourth grader in Roseburg, Ore., not far from the college. She had written to her congressman for the names of Russian schoolchildren with whom she and her classmates could be pen pals, but the State Department denied the request, fearing they would be influenced by Soviet propaganda. The headline on the article read: “U.S. Bars a Girl’s Plea for Russian Pen Pals.”

Credit…The New York Times

“Find that girl!” Mr. Laufer told the class, an exercise designed to teach his students the skill of locating a source and, possibly, a bigger story. He thought she might still be living nearby.

For nine students, that simple instruction turned into a journalism project, which included an on-the-ground reporting trip in Nevada, digging through F.B.I. files from the National Archives and meeting face to face with modern-day fourth graders in southern Russia. This year, they published their findings in a book, “Classroom 15: How the Hoover F.B.I. Censored the Dreams of Innocent Oregon Fourth Graders.”

“It is such a small story, but it resonates so much with the time that it was in,” said Julia Mueller, who worked as the project’s managing editor and wrote a chapter in the book.

Using public records and online databases, the students located the subject of the article, Janice Hall, now married and living near Las Vegas. Her name had been misspelled as “Janis” in the original article, which made it more difficult for the class to locate her.

In 1960, during a tense period of the Cold War, a time when both the United States and the Soviet Union saw every move by the other country as a tactic aimed at world domination, Ms. Hall never had the chance to correspond with Russian students. The reporters were determined to understand why.

They abandoned the syllabus, renamed the course Janice 101 and devoted the rest of the term to unpacking the story.

Each student took a slightly different angle. One examined the fear of communism that had gripped the United States. Another reporter, who was headed to Las Vegas for a spring break trip with her sorority, made a detour to meet Ms. Hall. Yet another interviewed the family of Ray McFetridge, the teacher who had conceived of the pen-pal project and who had died years earlier. Students even obtained the F.B.I. case files on the incident through a Freedom of Information Act request.

“Why wouldn’t you want people to be friends with people across borders?” asked Zack Demars, the lead reporter on the project, outlining the students’ central question.

“I think we discovered that it was because of the level of fear at the time,” he added.

Mr. Laufer, a former NBC News correspondent, thought that a reporter needed to go to Russia to meet with current pupils. He wanted his journalism students to explore what would happen if they tried to connect schoolchildren today.

“We decided that we were not going to leave this hanging,” Mr. Laufer said. “If they couldn’t do it in 1960, we were going to do it in 2020.”

The class decided to take letters written by fourth graders in Yoncalla, Ore., and deliver them to Russian students.

In December 2019, months after the course ended, Mr. Demars took a 13-hour train ride from Moscow to the southern Russian city of Rostov-on-Don, where Mr. Laufer had a contact who agreed to act as a guide.

Mr. Demars met with Russian fourth graders and gave them the letters from their American counterparts. They peppered him with questions: Did he have pets? Did he play sports? What did he think of Ariana Grande?

He also spoke with a group of high schoolers. They discussed American schools and movies and asked to follow him on Instagram. He thinks of these new followers as modern pen pals.

“I don’t talk to them all that often,” he said. “But we interact every now and then, and we have that level of human connection.”

Mr. Demars is now working as a reporter at a small local newspaper in Oregon. During the project, he learned the value of recording individual experiences, which can offer future generations insight into a particular era.

“When I’m out reporting, I’m looking for those things that are commonplace right now but deeply unique to the time period,” he said.

Ms. Hall, 70, said she was amazed to hear from the college students, who are about the age of her grandchildren.

She was also awed by the project, and particularly by Mr. Demars’s persistence: “He hooked up these two fourth grades,” she said, “which is exactly what we were trying to do.”

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