Six Feet Apart But Closer At Heart

How students are staying connected despite COVID-19 lockdown

A New Way of Life

Within the span of just a couple of months, students’ lives were forever changed. From school sports to prom; many gleaming high school memories are no longer in session. A virus that every media outlet has covered and everyone has heard of, COVID-19 has “paused” the world. 

On March 17, Governor Laura Kelly closed all schools in Kansas further ending the physical school year. Now, online school and social distancing is our new normal. Some students, like junior Sophia Martinez, still choose to celebrate a few things on their own, including prom. 

Martinez, along with other students, decided that they wouldn’t let this negatively impact their fun and friendships. 

“Being able to celebrate, even in the most simple form, helps someone to connect with themselves as well as the people they celebrate with. Celebrating prom online really boosted my confidence and helped me maintain a connection to my friends that I felt I was missing during quarantine,” Martinez said. “It was a time that I felt I could be a teenager again despite being locked up in my house. It was freeing and gave me a sense that l would be normal again.” 

Martinez and her friends dressed up and still celebrated the occasion online through games, went on streaming services that let you watch movies online together, and even took “pictures”. 

“Well, not all of my friends play Animal Crossing, but for the ones that did– we went on call together and played games and took pictures together. After that, a couple of my friends that didn’t get to join got together and we all watched a movie on Netflix Party,” said Martinez, “I really wanted to experience it with as many friends as I could.” 

Martinez firmly suggests that staying positive in a time like this is crucial.

“Thinking positively during something as scary as the coronavirus helps give people a reason to follow things like quarantine because it gives them something to look forward to while being separated from the rest of the world,” Martinez said, “Instead of prioritizing the negatives, staying positive makes the situation seem less intimidating.” 

Outside of being a high school student, everyone right now from all over has to follow the right precautions during this time. 

John Berggren, Salina Regional Health Center Public Relations Coordinator, believes we all have an important role to play during a time like this. 

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“Everyone has obviously been impacted in one way or another. Everyone within the community has a role to play to get through this trying time,” Berggren said.“Whether you’re a doctor or nurse working on the front lines of treating COVID-19, a grocery store worker or a teenager finishing school at home– we all have a role to play. Practicing social distancing, good hand hygiene and isolating yourself if you don’t feel well is something everyone can do.” 

Everyone can begin doing something to help prevent the spread.

“Continue practicing social distancing, using good hand hygiene and isolate yourself if you’re sick. Call your doctor and seek medical care if needed,” Berggren said. “The better we are as a society at following these guidelines, the more quickly we’ll get through this pandemic and life will return to normal.”

District Superintendent, Linn Exline along with other districts were required to submit what is called a “Continuous Learning Plan” to the Kansas State Department. 

“A small group of teachers worked together to read the guidance released by the Kansas State Department of Education,” Exline said. “Over the next several days, the teachers involved in the planning conversation increased until classroom faculty was involved in the discussion of how to best implement Continuous Learning in Salina.” 

Junior Sophie Lenkiewicz is struggling with the concepts online school has given her. 

“As a student that relies on a schedule and organization, I think that having to do online schooling is a struggle. Not only is the motivation hard, but also staying organized and on top of all my assignments is too,” Lenkiewicz said. 

Online Connections

Google Classroom and Zoom– an online video streaming platform– have now been implemented in USD 305. 

Lenkiewicz believes that now with online schooling, it’ll only make matters worse for students. 

Infographic by Concha Campa

“Like I said, it’s harder to have that accountability when you can do assignments while at home. There are some students who don’t try when they are physically at school, so I can’t imagine that online school would help much. I hope that the administration realizes this and is willing to be more forgiving with students for this,” Lenkiewicz said. 

Senior Gabriella Fischer thinks that online schooling is effective, but to some extent. 

“I do think it will work at continuing education before college and the next school year, but I’m worried teachers will assign materials meant for physical school that are hard or impossible to do online because of socioeconomic divides like not having the right equipment or going to work more days,” Fischer said.

In the midst of this global crisis, eye-opening events have taken place relating to mental health within students. 

“During this first week, my teachers have been giving me short assignments if any at all. I know many of them have kids of their own that they have to look out for as well, so I think they understand our position as students going through this shift,” Lenkiewicz said. 

Lenkiewicz believes that after all this mayhem is over, life for students and teachers will be different. 

“I think that we will be more thankful for the people around us, and the opportunities we have as students. Mostly, I think everyone will just be glad to be back,” Lenkiewicz said, “In the light of this though, I do hope that teachers realize that they should lessen the workload on students. If we are spending only three hours a day on school during quarantine when nothing is going on, then why do we need homework assignments that take five plus hours when we have extracurriculars stacked on top of eight hours of school? I think it’s kind of eye-opening in terms of the workload of students during the average school year, and the stress students endure.”

A Change in Focus

Teachers are working hard to ensure that their students still receive the best education.

Math teacher Matt Dykas believes that the pandemic has changed the world of education. 

“The biggest change for me is finding ways to keep the content reachable in an online platform while keeping it meaningful and getting feedback to students in a timely manner. It also forces me to adjust my teaching philosophy since I want students to learn from mistakes and have conversations with peers about the math content we are working on,” Dykas said, “Working online challenges how I question students individually and in small groups to build ownership in their thinking rather than just telling them how to think.”

I believe the focus on mental health has increased because of this isolation like with more emails from counselors and teachers.”

— senior Gabriella Fischer

Dykas thinks that teachers are focusing on mental health a lot more now rather than assignments. 

“Mental health is more of a focus because it is human nature to resist change and teenagers have enough stress on many different levels without dealing with the shutdown of a pandemic and every student is going to deal with it differently and have different resources available to cope,” Dykas said. 

Fischer believes the focus on mental health is bittersweet.

“I believe the focus on mental health has increased because of this isolation like with more emails from counselors and teachers,” Fischer said, “However, I think if the district would have prioritized mental health before this crisis, they wouldn’t have to try and catch up on all the missed help when many students aren’t comfortable with confiding in any school officials.”

Dykas feels as though teachers are taken into consideration students’ well beings more now because of the isolation. 

“I think students’ well being is considered more but it is hard to have a general plan for all students since students’ level of isolation, how each student socializes, is different without a pandemic so it’s hard to determine how each student will react and adjust to the new normal of our day-to-day lives,” Dykas said.

Art teacher Larry Cullins has to uniquely think of ways now to go about teaching art to students and assigning art projects for students to do with online learning. 

“As far as my job, I am communicating fairly well with my students and we will ‘carry on.’ They just won’t have the free art supplies they normally would get. I can’t help students as easily but sending me ‘progress pics’ is helpful,” Cullins said. 

Despite the positivity Cullins has about this situation, one thing still remains a loss in the art department due to COVID-19. 

“We are truly disappointed about the cancellations of our many spring activities. Cancelling our annual Art Open House was a huge loss. This would’ve been our 20th annual exhibit,” Cullins said. 

Despite these tough circumstances the world has been faced with, it is important to remain positive. 

“Any change can present challenges. At times like this, it is helpful to focus on what we can control. We have the opportunity to interact with peers and staff,” Exline said. “Because we have so many options with technology, we are able to adjust as we move forward to make this the best experience possible for students, families and staff.”