Students mourn the loss of their senior year and face college changes
On March 13, 2020, COVID-19 landed the first punch.
That’s when Governor Tom Wolf ordered all schools in the state closed for two weeks.
But educators fought back.
Joining with their state and national counterparts, local school districts formulated an alternative education plan that initially included distance learning, and later that year, a hybrid blend of online instruction. person and online.
And yet, academics ended up being only half the battle.
Empty classrooms, cafeterias and hallways weighed heavily on social interactions among students and among teachers. Indeed, some local educators say that while there is still some catching up to do both academically and socially, this may be where schools are furthest behind.
Jeff Allay, a life skills teacher at Shenango High School, recalled that the day it was announced the school was closing, his students were having a countywide dance party.
“We weren’t able to resume these fun activities with people, with children, until this year,” he said. “We’re getting back to it little by little. It’s the social aspect that these kids have missed out on, not just my kids, but all kids. I’ll go to a study hall and there are kids buried in their phones with their earbuds in them. I’ll see someone sitting right next to someone else and I’ll say, “Why don’t you talk to him?” ” and the kid will be like, “Well, I just texted him.”
“I know kids are buried in their phones as is, but COVID has definitely ruined the social interactions we had.”
That said, Allay continues, he thinks his students may take longer to return to the old status quo.
“I would say we’re a bit more backward socially, not so academically,” he said. “It’s ‘Hey, I forgot how to sit next to someone’ or ‘I forgot how to ask a question’ or ask to go to the bathroom. It’s a little different than sitting at home in front of his computer.
At Wilmington High School, Sally Hiers was sharing “To Kill A Mockingbird” with a special English class when news came that the school was about to close for two weeks.
“My stomach sank,” said Hiers, adding that she expected the shutdown to last at least a month.
Eventually, Hiers took up storytelling through distance learning, but quickly discovered that the process lacked the kind of interaction that produced lively classroom discussion of the material. Although the students appeared to be in Google meetings called to continue the lesson, she was never sure if they were in fact listening.
“A lot of them didn’t have their microphones or cameras turned on, so the only way they knew they were there was if they had an emoji,” she said. “I would see those 20 emojis and just stand there teaching, not knowing if there was someone behind the emojis.”
One day she had an idea.
“I knew they were just not having fun,” Hiers said. “I could barely get them engaged. So one day I said, ‘Everyone has to turn on their camera and show me their pets.’ I teach high school, not first grade, but all the cameras went on and I saw cats, dogs, and birds. A girl took her phone into the barn to show us her goat.
Yesterday called the experience a “lightbulb moment.”
“I realized that I always try to do everything the same way,” she said. “I needed to have fun with them. I can let some things go.
This is a lesson his students taught him.
“I now understand how much personal connection means; it means just as much as teaching,” said Hiers, who is in her 22nd year at Wilmington. “(If remote learning were to come back), I don’t think I would try to push the rigor that I was pushing and try to keep things the same.
“I always want discussions, I always want good tries, I always want everyone engaged. I think it may be long gone. It takes a long time to revive the discussion.
When it comes to academics, she feels that students “definitely didn’t get as much this first spring and last year. I feel like we’re bouncing back now, but I had to do more backtracking.
Maintaining academic progress was also a challenge for Allay.
“We couldn’t do half the things we wanted to do online, especially with academics,” he said. “And we do community education, which was really bad for the last two years because a lot of companies didn’t want kids there because of COVID.
“We’re actually just starting over with the Humane Society (of Lawrence County). We are able to go out now, but even at the beginning of this year, we were often refused.
At Mohawk, biology and anatomy professor Ryan Castor said students were well prepared to learn online “because we had brought our students to individual saturation with devices three or four years before COVID.”
“We were prepared for this,” he continued, “but I don’t think any school district is really ready for the longevity of this existence.
“No one was able to foresee the problems that arose. Although I think we were very well prepared from a material point of view, it was always a challenge.
But Castor didn’t just use technology to help his students. He also adopted it as part of Pittsburgh-based 3DPPGH, which recruited members with 3D printers and laser engravers to print parts for face shields and to cut out the clear plastic shield itself.
Castor used his own 3D printer as well as five others the district allowed him to bring home to help produce the items until demand eventually waned. By the time this happened, the group – which still exists – had raised $18,621 for materials and shipping through GoFundMe and had created 11,628 shields.
“You had the challenges in class trying to figure out what you were going to do, so it was a good distractor,” Castor said. “But at the same time, it was something else. It was an additional goal to the checklist of things that needed to happen each day. With work and home, it was a lot.
Yet he also learned a lot, deepening his knowledge and understanding of the printing process. This, in turn, played a role in the district’s development of a new crafting class to be introduced in the 2022-23 academic year.
“Students are going to go through the process of building a printer from scratch, they’ll go through the engineering/design process, they’ll learn some basic computer-aided drafting principles,” Castor said. “The plan is to have them develop a student-designed project or product that we will showcase at a showcase event. So a long term anniversary result would be this class.
A second outcome, he postulated, would be the professional growth of teachers who fought for two years to educate their students, regardless of the obstacles.
“This whole period of distance/hybrid learning has really shown educators what they are capable of,” he said. “I think it pushed us out of our comfort zones in that maybe in three to five years we’ll all be reflecting on the days of COVID and realizing that even though it wasn’t enjoyable or ideal for anyone , it’s really made us better and more balanced in what we do as educators.