Students Show Resilience In Weird Times
By Reid Neureiter, For the GPHN
East High School’s administration and faculty responded to the pandemic and the mandatory physical closure as best they could, but it is fair to say that learning conditions were not ideal.
“We have to remember that none of us had ever thought we would be in this context,” said East Principal John Youngquist, of the at-home, computer-based learning experiment. “Our teachers have been rock stars, learning, adapting, responding to feedback, growing along with their students.”
The school distributed several hundred Chromebooks to students to ensure ease of connecting online. Around 90 percent of East students engaged via at-home learning. “This is because of the teachers, who have worked so hard, and parents, who have been doing their very best to track their students’ progress and understand some, if not most, of what is going on with the remote context. Our hats are off to students, as well, who have been patient, and positive, and doing much to stay interested and involved.”
But the abrupt shift to at-home computer learning was less than smooth. According to East Theater Department Chair Matthew Murphy, without meaningful advance training on how to instruct remotely, along with a confused and scared student population, remote learning was difficult.
“From the district to the classroom it was a unlike anything I had experienced as a teacher,” Murphy said. “I was not prepared to teach theater online. Nor had I ever wondered what it might look like if I were to try. You can instruct over the internet, especially when you elect to do so. But I do not think during a worldwide pandemic where there has been no training for the teachers and students or a willingness to participate, can online-learning be effective.”
Despite the impediment of no live contact, Murphy’s students were able to adapt. “We held an online ‘Black Box’ Performance where the students hosted and performed for two hours over Instagram live,” Murphy explained. “It was amazing to watch students create and perform in their living rooms, garages and bedrooms.
“With over 175 students watching from their homes it was the largest attended black box event that East Theater Company had hosted. Keeping the feeling of reciprocity between the performer and audience alive has been the largest challenge. Receiving emoji hand claps and hearts instead of audible sounds and hugs has proved challenging and complicated.”
Sociology teacher Michael Hernandez, who has been at East for 25 years, used the Schoology platform to post articles and give assignments. But he also tried to use the pandemic as a platform for discussing sociological trends in our society with his students. He scheduled video chats with his students to cover issues like wealth inequality, racial inequality, and why the black community is being hit so hard by the pandemic. Hernandez also is very sad for the senior athletes whose seasons were cancelled. He spoke to the mother of an East lacrosse player who had been certain this would be a season of resurgence for East boys lacrosse. The mother related that when it was announced the season was cancelled, the player would not come out of his room.
“He was just despondent, devastated,” says Hernandez. “We fail to realize as adults sometimes, for young people emotions are stronger, they feel things stronger and deeper than we do.”
Murphy said it is difficult to generalize the effect the pandemic and closure of the campus had on East’s students. “I have watched a lot of students realize how wonderful going to school was and is. How much fun it is to have something to go to, to dress for and to talk about. I have also watched others sink into endless boredom looking at their lives with an unimpressed gaze. Still others have found this time to be liberating, free from the pressures of young teenage life, concepts of cool and popularity. As with most things, it varies and is mostly tied to their home lives and the social emotional health of the family and home.”
Youngquist recognized the loss of not being able to celebrate this year’s graduating class, with prom being cancelled as well as the formal graduation ceremony.
Yet, the principal is confident that the Class of 2020 will be able to overcome. “Our senior class is exceptional in one hundred ways,” Youngquist said. “They have endured an element of community crisis every year of their experience of high school, as have so many others. They have continued to strive for success and they have found it.”
Graduating in Times of Pandemic: Interviews with students
Dear Class of 2020: Letter from a fellow graduate
Thoughts on Leadership: Several Park Hill school principals share their thoughts on education in the age of pandemic.
Pomp and Circumstance: Celebrating Graduates on Eudora Street.