Karen Kurson, In-Depth Co-Editor

After almost a year of quarantining and social distancing due to the Coronavirus, many people in the Maplewood-South Orange (MAPSO) community and beyond are finding themselves cooped up. Some students enjoy the leisure of at-home learning, yet others have become restless and tried new hobbies, hence the fascination with baking sourdough that peaked last Spring. At the start of the pandemic last March, all gyms and public parks were closed down completely, but restrictions have since been lifted. This has enabled some students to get more exercise, but students who don’t belong to a gym are at a loss, especially as the weather cools. However, the additional free time due to shortened school days has prompted many Columbia High School (CHS) students to find creative ways to stay in shape. 

Like many other public schools in N.J., CHS has adopted a hybrid model, yet only freshmen were allowed to participate in in-person learning. For the time being, CHS is all-virtual as the Teacher’s Union has refused to return to in-person teaching. The school day continues to consist of half the class periods of a typical school day. The majority of students are still learning from home, meaning most of them are not attending a standard gym class. However, N.J. law still mandates “at least 150 minutes of health, safety and physical education per week in all grades.” In accordance with the law, physical education classes remain on the virtual schedules at CHS, but most gym and health classes involve a simple log-in and log-out process or a brief attendance question. Exercise is encouraged by teachers, but rarely enforced.

Art by: M. Shapiro

“My gym class is literally five minutes,” said Andrew Roe, ‘21, who logs onto virtual calls for attendance, but skips the assigned workout videos, which are not strictly enforced. Carrie Saney, ‘23, typically does the Tabata exercise videos she’s assigned for her gym class, but agreed with Roe that these aren’t mandated. “When no one is really checking whether or not kids are actually following these exercise routines, kids most likely won’t actually do it,” she said. While both have found ways to exercise independently, doing so by choice differs from school-structured physical activity; therefore, less motivated students may not be getting sufficient exercise. Additionally, students no longer walk or bike to school or circuit the building between class periods, further limiting the physical activity they would typically be getting from attending school in-person. The lack of accountability that comes with at-home learning can sometimes lead to laziness, as well as equity issues since many MAPSO dwellers don’t have access to a gym or outdoor gear.

On the other hand, some students have used at-home learning as an opportunity to improve their health independently. Roe added that “in quarantine [his] physical health has actually improved.” Roe no longer abides by the typical school day structure, and is now able to pass the time skateboarding and working out rather than sitting at a desk. 

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Mila Kisch, ‘22, agreed that despite the lack of enforced activity, her physical health has progressed over quarantine. The additional free time has allowed Kisch to “be active and be able to fit in my homework instead of having to choose one of the two.” As the weather cools, though, Kisch has taken a more indoor-friendly approach to her health. She and another CHS student, Charlotte Oliver, ‘21, created the Instagram account @our_vegan_eats to post vegan recipes they’ve prepared. She used online school to her advantage by spending hours in the kitchen she now has full-time access to. At first, she continued her old habit of baking. Once she decided to go vegan, she learned how to make more food independently and became increasingly aware of veganism’s environmental benefits. “I got really passionate about it, loved the things I was making and the way I was feeling, and wanted to share it with people who were interested in eating more plant-based,” Kisch said. She and Oliver have shared recipes such as banana drop biscuits, butternut squash coconut curry, nourish bowls and many more on their page. 

Similarly, Saney has changed her diet during lockdown. She briefly went vegan, but was unable to fully pursue it due to health restrictions. Her eating habits have improved, though. “I used to barely eat before because I felt like I never had time to do so, and to be completely honest, I never felt comfortable eating in the cafeteria. However, now that I’m at home I’m able to have more time to eat,” Saney said. The additional access to groceries and a kitchen has likely prompted many students to opt for healthier choices, rather than eating lunch at places near CHS such as 7/11 and Sabatino’s. 

Unlike Roe and Kisch, Saney feels that her physical health has worsened over quarantine. Saney now spends most of her school hours sitting at her desk rather than walking around the brick-and-mortar CHS. Despite making an effort to exercise three times a week, she has developed a vitamin D deficiency, likely due to reduced time outside. Still, she’s tried to remain positive, but noted that it is understandable that many people have begun to lose motivation as the pandemic continues with no end in sight. 

Freedom from “forced” social interaction and exercise may seem like a blessing for less active teens, but at the same time, both are essential for young people’s growth.

Many students that have risen to the challenge of self discipline have reaped the benefits. Kisch feels that her new lifestyle helped [her]  regain that sense of control over [her] life and gave [her] kind of a purpose.” In unprecedented high school territory, students have somehow been able to keep moving.

Designed by: Sydney Mannion