On Sunday, March 15th, Governor Phil Scott ordered all school-related activities canceled by March 17th. Since his press release more than two weeks ago, Burlington High School (BHS) students and faculty have joined the coronavirus roller-coaster setting. Using sophomore Dahlia Rubin’s words, “Everything’s been disrupted.”
Seniors left unsure whether exams, prom, and/or graduation would happen this year.
“It’s just kinda sad. I left whenever the last day of school was. I just walked out the door and went to my car and then that night my mom was like ‘oh, that’s funny that might be the last time you ever go in BHS.’ I was like wow…. You don’t think about how nice it is to have the routine of going to school until someone says you’re not coming back,” Talia Battaile, a BHS senior, said.
Teachers also miss their jobs.
“I went out for a bike ride yesterday, just to clear my head, and I found myself at school…. There’s definitely a feeling of just wow! School’s awesome! I like doing what I do,” Chaim Lodish, BHS math teacher, said.
However, Burlington High School, now heavily reliant on Chromebook power, has found other ways to “maintain learning” in this unprecedented era. The Vermont Agency of Education (AOE) guidelines for the initial “maintenance learning” ask teachers to provide learning opportunities, to mark work that comes in as collected (no grades), and to not penalize students. Following the Vermont AOE’s request, teachers individually designed remote education plans for each class.
“It’s manageable. I’m able to get it done and help is accessible through my parents and teachers through email,” Ahmad Dennis, BHS freshman, said.
Although, family situations differ for students and impact their productivity. Rubin, the oldest of four children, appreciates school as a place where she can focus and complete work.
“It’s been difficult for me. I’ve definitely had a lot of distractions. If I go to my room, yeah it’s quiet, but then I sit on my bed and go on my phone and, you know, don’t work. But then if I’m upstairs it’s like chaos and then I just give up,” Rubin explained.
Teachers remain mindful that students and families have different capacities to “homeschool.”
“A portion of [students] are actually able to do more than what we have given them and can truly be challenged to another level. But I think a large portion of our students are under immense stress during this time… To not have that structural support of what a normal school day looks like is becoming a real challenge for some of these students,” Bowen Stephens, BHS history teacher, said.
During the past two weeks, teachers have emphasized reviewing skills or content. In the coming week’s schools will progress to a “continuity of learning” which has not yet been specified. Regardless, as of April 1st, all BHS teachers will communicate, assign and accept work in a more uniform manner.
“Our goal is for students to have more consistency in our current program and more ability to pace themselves appropriately,” BHS Principal Noel Green stated in a March 20 email.
Battaile understands now why pacing is important.
“My last assignment to do is due in two weeks and I did it today and I was like “Oh yay! I finished all my homework,’ and then I was like, ‘Wait a minute what else am I going to do?’” Battaile said.
She raises a legitimate concern: Many high school students face spare time with absolutely no experience in the field of relaxation or even boredom. With such a looming prospect over her head, Battaile decided to learn a new skill: skateboarding.
“I am trying to finally learn how to skateboard, which for the last three years I have been like, ‘This summer I am going to learn how to skateboard’ and then I never do,” Battaile said excitedly.
Rejos Neopaney, a Burlington junior, decided to do a service for the public with his free hours.
“I’m actually making one of my best friend’s basketball highlights ‘cause I am super bored,” Neopaney joked.
Both Lodish and Rubin found old hobbies and traditional pastimes to keep themselves sane.
“We’ve got a jigsaw puzzle going. The Lego collection of Star Wars ships that we’ve been building has been fantastic with my eight-year-old. I have been playing more basketball with my older two, I mean I’m short, white, and Jewish, I don’t play basketball, but we’re having fun with that,” Lodish laughed.
“Our family has been having us all make dinner one night. We’ve been doing different themes so I guess I have been getting better at cooking,” Rubin said.
Unfortunately, the time to explore new hobbies came from canceled or postponed activities: college visits, prom, concerts, Year End Studies trips, sports, and birthday parties.
“I was actually really sad about prom because I was looking forward to it this year… And for graduation, I really hope that happens. It would be so sad,” Battaile said.
Governor Scott announced the state will issue guidance about graduation and other year-end activities by May 8th.
Most students and families are feeling the impact of isolation at this point, yet many students continue to gather. This has the district and city alarmed.
In a March 24 email to the BSD community, Superintendent Yaw Obeng urged parents to help their children stay home.
“On Sunday, I witnessed a group of students playing football. Last week, I heard stories of high school students gathering for parties. In my experience, when the sports world stops, when schools close, and when religious institutions cease gatherings, we need to take heed,” Obeng stated in the email.
Families that comply with the current health and safety recommendations and avoid social contact have experienced ups and downs at home.
“Siblings have a really unique way to find each other’s weakness and exploit it,” Lodish sighed. “On the other hand, there are some times where they have been lifting each other up and then wow. We have had everybody playing music together and that’s been pretty cool,” Lodish added.
And, of course, many families have students and parents that must report to work.
“Just for me personally, my mom works in healthcare and it just seems like every healthcare worker they can spare right now is getting encouraged to sign up for shifts in this COVID unit at the hospital,” Battaile said. “She’s definitely going to get exposed to it.”
Lodish, ever the math teacher, has been crunching the numbers.
“My concern is exponential growth which is scary as heck. The problem with exponential growth is that once it’s visible it’s almost too late to prevent death spread because of the growth factor that occurs,” Lodish said.
Neopaney, whose immune system has been battered by illness, is cautious but calm.
“I have a worse immune system because I had cancer and chemo and that caused asthma. My mom said it would affect me more but I’m not really scared,” Neopaney said.
COVID-19 will reshape lives now and in the future. Although an overall challenging situation, some are approaching the virus and the solution to reduce spread with optimism.
“I actually have a very positive outlook on the virus. I think that through social distancing we are going to save millions of lives,” Stephens said.