by Sabrina Michelena
Marc S. helping out a student
School has not been the same for anyone since the pandemic, and that is obvious for everyone. Last fall, only 26% of New York City students attended school in-person. The other 74% of students would learn remotely.
At East Side, last year, we had a modified schedule in which Wednesdays were asynchronous. This meant that there were no zoom meetings or classes to attend and teachers would send in assignments through Google Classroom for students to complete. Although there were no fixed core classes on Wednesdays, the teachers ran optional office hours and some enrichment classes would meet on zoom. We would strain our eyes for hours on end nearly every weekday, and some of us even felt symptoms such as blurry vision, headaches, and even muscular pains in the neck and back from too much time on screens. Therefore, Wednesdays were a relief when we had a break.
In May of this year, the New York mayor, Bill de Blasio announced that there would be no option for remote learning in the school year of 2021 - 2022. This year, we dove straight into full-time, in-person learning at East Side, a reminder of what life was like pre-COVID, where we learned sitting in a classroom with teachers in front of us. While school is obviously not the exact same to the way it was before COVID because of the health precautions we must take, it is vastly different from our isolated, remote learning of last year.
However, East Side’s 11th and 12th grade decided to incorporate one aspect of remote learning: a change in schedule on Wednesdays. And therefore, we have Wacky Wednesdays, where students attend school but catch a break from their typical core classes and are instead offered office hours for certain classes they may need help with, as well as, a few extracurricular classes that their core teachers are teaching. In 12th grade students attend a mix of office hours and workshops focused on the college process and career exploration.
Both Marc Sole and Kate Jensen, the 11th grade Science and History teachers, explained that they had advocated for the Wacky Wednesday schedule to the administration because they believed it would be beneficial for students to get a break from classes and have time to catch up.
Kate, who teaches both the “Political Theory” and “Current Events” Wednesday electives clarified that she was able to choose which classes she wanted to teach, and although she believes it can be hectic to teach two additional classes as well as her normal History class, she enjoys it and believes that “it’s worth it.” When discussing why she chose the classes she chose to teach, she explained, “Political Theory was my major in college and I’m really passionate about the philosophers that we’re looking at. It’s a really great way to engage in intellectual work.”
Kate finds that even though she ties History with Current Events regularly, she thinks it’s important to have a separate class for that topic so that students can learn more about the world around them in that class and decide about what may interest them. Marc enjoys teaching his Science Questions class, in which he answers any science-related questions that students may happen to have and submit. He admits that teaching the Science Questions class is “something I always wanted to do.”
However, the students’ opinions about the schedule differ from the teachers’. When discussing their extracurricular classes, they seemed unsatisfied with the results. Marcus Castiglione explains that he wishes there were more extracurricular activities that he could attend, and Iggy Roque shares that sentiment by sharing, “I wish there were more classes. It would be fun if we had, like, a film class where we can watch movies.”
Mia Casella divulges her contentment for her classes, explaining that she finds the Current Events class and the School Newspaper fun. “I like that [school newspaper] is not a structured writing piece and you can write about anything.” Zion Castelli shared Marcus and Iggy’s opinion on the extracurricular activities, blatantly admitting, “Nope,” when asked whether he enjoys the extracurricular classes but expressed that he enjoys the office hours because “I can get work done on my own time.”
These four students all share the same relief for a break of homework on Wednesdays. While students attend these extracurricular classes, they do not receive homework from them, which they are all pleased about. Marcus explained, “[It’s] kind of nice because we have an extra day to do the Tuesday homework.”
Should this change to the Wednesday schedule continue into future years? Has the pandemic influenced our lives so much that school will forever look different from how it did before?
During the peak of the pandemic, in the middle of heavy lockdown, everyone was deprived of social interaction as we were prohibited from leaving the house unless it was for an emergency. We found familiarity in boredom and grew lonely. It may have been emotionally draining for some to have to log onto online zoom nearly every day. Students may have felt that they missed out on some of the 10th grade curriculum, given that we only had History and Science for one semester. Having a day to have office hours for Wednesday could be a comfort for students that feel like they need to academically catch up.
Many students changed a lot during quarantine too, as it occurred during some of the most formative years of our lives. They have entered eleventh or twelfth grade as completely different people to their previous selves, with more interests or self-assuredness. Now that the upperclassmen are preparing for college, they may have interests that they desire to navigate, which could be another reason why the mandated extracurricular should stay. Adding this day to reflect on academic achievements and how to pursue our academic goals, as well as exploring new interests, could become a permanent fix on our East Side schedules and could help expand the minds of our eleventh and twelfth graders as they prepare for college.