Karen Kurson, In-Depth Co-Editor
As of March 13, 2020, Columbia High School (CHS) has gone from a center of education to a center of book collection and senior photos. All education now takes place through a learning management platform known as Canvas, and CHS students have been tasked with navigating this new educational model.
While there are many difficulties associated with adjusting to virtual learning, the upsides should not be overlooked. Online school has been around for much longer than COVID-19, and in the past it has acted as an alternative for those who struggled with traditional academic settings or those with demanding schedules. Due to COVID-19, it has become mandatory for millions of high schoolers across the country, including all those who attend CHS. This has created a dramatic shift in the high school experience.
The high school bookends- seniors and freshmen- have arguably been hit the hardest. Freshmen at CHS have transitioned to high school without the customary 8th grade dinner dance or welcome tour. Sabrina Mannion, ‘24, “didn’t expect to start high school like this.” Though she has missed out on meeting new classmates in-person, she has generally been able to look on the bright side. Mannion felt positively about some aspects of online school, such as the chat function of virtual meetings and new websites her teachers have utilized such as Edpuzzle and Pear Deck.
She has also managed to form connections with her peers through social media and extracurriculars, including the Parnassian society, Model United Nations, and Red Cross club, all of which she believes have “translated well virtually.” The class of 2024 missed out on CHS’s annual club fair, but Mannion has had an easy time getting involved with activities online and this has allowed for more flexibility. “It’s easier to try new things, you can just do it from your room!”
Underclassmen often have fewer responsibilities, such as a job or activity, that get them out of the house, and given New Jersey’s driving age of 17, they lack the mobility that upperclassmen have. This has made social interaction a challenge during quarantine, especially as the weather cools. Unlike Mannion, Justin Strugger, ‘23, has been left somewhat unsatisfied by the virtual replacements for some of his activities. This stems from his expectations for what high school had in store for him. “It differs from the traditional high-school narrative I see in TV shows and movies,” he said. Strugger takes no issue with the educational element of online school, yet believes “the social aspect of school feels missing.” Despite this disappointment, Strugger noted the perks of online school, such as completing assignments from the comfort of one’s bedroom. “One of the nicest things is… getting to school only requires taking 5 steps from my bed,” Strugger noted.
Jordan Castellani, ‘21, similarly noted the lack of social interaction through school. As a senior, she has missed out on the ceremonies and whims of her final year of high school, and feels short-changed. Castellani was able to arrange a small outdoor homecoming with her friends, but mentioned that “it’s not the same.” Nonetheless, in the absence of the typical high school events- like the football games and parties that teenagers like Strugger have seen on screen- students have had to decide for themselves who to include in their lives. Despite the loss of many senior privileges, Castellani stated that lockdown taught her to “really value [her] friendships.”
Castellani has a mixed view on Canvas. She mentioned that “no one seemed to know how to work it” at the beginning of the year, but has since noticed improvements. She also appreciates the four-hour school days, which have given her down time in between class and work, and allowed her to take care of her mental health. Strugger agreed that the shortened days have been a highlight of the new school format. He felt that the full-length days were often “exhausting and burdensome,” and their absence has gone uncontested, unlike many other mainstays of the traditional model of education at CHS.
No amount of Khan Academy lessons and Zoom lectures can replace the murals and red-and-black tiles of the CHS hallways that we all miss dearly, or that the freshmen have not gotten to know. However, no one is alone in their disappointment and frustration during these challenging times. Whether it be a sports season, a job or a loved one, most people have lost parts of their lives during the pandemic. Teachers and students have battled against technical difficulties and Zoom fatigue in their adjustment to the “new normal,” but some improvements on Canvas have already been picked up on. As COVID-19 vaccines are beginning to circulate, we are reminded that this too shall pass– but in the meantime, things aren’t so bad at CHS.
Designed by: Jack Kalsched