March 24, 2021
Despite many after-school activities being canceled due to COVID, students are still finding ways to connect.
The 2020-2021 school year has been unpredictable to say the least. Because of the coronavirus pandemic, teens across the country have been learning partially or entirely remotely for the better part of a year. With most extracurricular activities canceled, students have few opportunities for social connection. Thankfully, many school programs are starting to get creative on how they can safely bring back some of these much-needed activities. Here's a look at how students are staying connected — and inspired — amid the pandemic.
Singing Out Safely
When scientists determined in early 2020 that COVID-19 mainly spreads through respiratory droplets, public singing quickly became a no-no. High school choirs were one of the first groups affected, as they usually practice indoors on risers, which don't allow for proper social distancing. But school singing groups can offer an important creative outlet for middle school and high school students. That's why some teachers are finding ways to keep the music alive.
Take Abilene High in Texas. Normally, the school choir puts on a holiday-themed concert at the First Baptist Church, but after large indoor gatherings were deemed unsafe, they had to think outside of the box. This year, the school partnered with the Abilene Zoo to produce a concert series called “Under the Stars." The large, outdoor space allowed for social distancing, and they limited the audience to family members.
Meanwhile, Rolling Meadows High School outside of Chicago recorded their senior choir concert by individual voice parts, then edited the whole thing together to create a virtual experience. While concerts may look a little different this year, students are still finding ways to get the harmony and connection they crave.
Social Clubs, Pandemic-Style
There's no doubt that remote learning has left many students feeling socially isolated. But one study conducted in 2020 found that, while teachers favor solutions like “more counselors," students prefer online clubs and other opportunities to connect with their peers.
Recognizing the need for teen social interaction, one teacher at Georgia Cyber Academy decided to rethink baking club. Christine Ashley switched meetings to an online format, then came up with a series of recipes they could complete in the 25-minute timeframe. In addition, she often asked students to pre-bake on their own.
Meanwhile, the robotics team at Episcopal High School in Alexandria, Va., has introduced protocols to meet safely in person. Whereas students used to work together in large groups, they now get individual tool kits and stay masked and socially distanced for the duration of the meeting. Any shared tools get sanitized immediately.
While old clubs are finding new ways to function, new types of activities are also emerging. When schools began shutting down last spring, students at Michele Clark Academic Prep Magnet High School in Chicago created a podcast to keep teens connected. Episodes feature interviews with counselors, teachers and social workers, and aim to combat the isolation that many are feeling without the traditional structure of in-person learning.
High school sports can provide a crucial social outlet for students and can help instill a sense of belonging. That's why many athletics teams decided to start back up again this past fall. Many sports, like football and soccer, are traditionally played outdoors, which helps curb the spread of the virus. But others, like basketball, hockey and wrestling, are riskier, since they are played indoors with lots of physical contact between players.
In order to allow sports to continue, many schools are following strict guidelines set out by their states and the Centers for Disease Control (CVD), including mask-wearing, increased hand-washing and staying home when appropriate.
In New Orleans, one wrestling coach required wrestlers to change singlets between each match and made sure to disinfect mats between rounds. But the dangers aren't just limited to the players—the spectators are also at risk. That's why the NFHS network in Los Angeles has provided sports teams with cameras — now friends and family can live stream the games instead of attending in person.
Curtain Up (Virtually)
While many sports have started up again, the curtains remain closed on most high school stages. The problem mostly is the audience — having people packed into seats indoors is risky. That's why the music director at Maryvale High School in New York found a creative alternative to performing their school musical live. Students got together to create a hybrid play — they filmed parts of the performance on-stage at school and parts at home. They edited the whole performance together and released it on video.
Meanwhile, in Clark County, Nevada, Cox helped bring the drama class together at Thurman White Middle School. After their school musical was canceled, Cox enlisted the help of Oscar-winning director Patrick Osborne to create Drawn Closer, an animated film whose characters are based on the students.
Rehearsals took place on video chat, and students filmed their performances using tablets. Most importantly, the kids got to maintain a strong sense of social connection through the creative process. The piece will debut in May, 2021.
Schools may not be operating per usual, but students and teachers across the country are still finding meaningful ways to connect. At the end of the day, the show must go on.