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NHS students confront COVID changes

By Maddie Gerber
Hometown Weekly Intern

Thursday, March 12, at Needham High School felt like a fever dream. Although classes were continuing as normal, everything seemed to be clouded in a haze of uncertainty as whispers about the coronavirus spread through the halls. Even within the classrooms, the discussions often veered away from the curriculum as teachers did their best to assuage the frayed nerves of students and faculty alike. By the end of the day, Wellesley had shut down school for two weeks and the reality of the situation was beginning to set in. However, the idea of shutting down Needham schools seemed like a dream in itself, an outrageous fantasy that simply would never happen. At that point, most Needham High students, including myself, felt so removed from the crisis, as the effects of coronavirus had yet to penetrate our town’s protective bubble. For many of us in that early stage, the virus seemed like an excuse for an early vacation, a chance to catch up on sleep, hang out with friends and binge watch Netflix for hours on end. 

The real implications of the virus had yet to come. 

By that Thursday evening, our superintendent, Dr. Gutekanst, announced that Needham schools would be closed for two weeks, which has now been extended to three in accordance with Governor Charlie Baker’s announcement on March 15. As this is a constantly evolving situation, Needham schools are doing the best they can to adapt, and to accommodate the varying needs of all students. At the time of publication, Needham High School’s plan consisted of the following: For the first week of the break - March 16-20 - the school used up remaining snow days and allowed students to rest and relax amid the confusion. For the following weeks, teachers will be providing enrichment activities through sites such as Google Classroom and Schoology, in addition to offering virtual office hours. These activities are designed to follow the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) guidelines and, according to Needham High Principal Aaron Sicotte, “allow students to demonstrate some of their learning, and remain connected to others in this isolating time.” All regular school work is on pause at the moment. 

Although some families are anxious to get back to online work right away, Sicotte acknowledges that not all students are prepared for this, and that special education laws are in place to protect these individuals and ensure that nobody is left behind. He hopes that the enrichment activities will give opportunities to all students and allow administrators more time to work with state guidance on how they can best approach the challenge of online learning. Despite the confusion surrounding schoolwork, Sicotte urges everyone to be patient during this time and embrace the opportunities that they have. Although there is a lot of uncertainty at the moment, Needham High School’s dedicated faculty is working extremely hard to make sure that no student is left behind. 

Although the closing of school at first may have seemed like an extra vacation, the reality has begun to set in for many Needham High students, as the initial excitement has been replaced by fear and confusion. As high schoolers, much of our lives are tightly scheduled around school; it’s not only where we learn but it’s where we see friends, eat lunch, play sports, perform and so much more. Although the arduousness of school is something many students often complain about, high school truly is the cornerstone of our lives at this age, and without it, many people feel adrift and confused.

For senior Trintje Nydam, this spring is her final season of track. After three years of hard work, she has earned the coveted position of captain. However, due to the virus, the MIAA has pushed spring sports back to at least April 27 at the time of print, and there is some concern as to whether these sports will even happen at all. “Being a senior on a spring sports team is something that’s especially hard during this time,” Nydam acknowledged. “Not being able to practice as a team is unfortunate, as it’s harder to push myself during workouts, and it certainly makes running less fun.” 

Additionally, the school’s production of "Shrek: The Musical" was scheduled to be performed on the weekend of March 13, but was tentatively postponed due to coronavirus. Sophomore Brian Curry, cast as one of the three little pigs in the show, was extremely disappointed by the postponement of the musical and the uncertainty of its future. “When we found out that the show would be cancelled, we were all crushed,” Curry noted. “Every single cast and crew member worked so hard, so it is really upsetting that there is a possibility that we won’t be able to share this work with everyone.” The show is planned to be rescheduled for the weekend of May 30. According to Curry, the cast is “hoping and praying that it will work out.”

A final concern for many students, especially juniors, is how standardized testing will be affected by the virus. SAT and ACT testing scheduled for the coming months has been postponed to June and July, which has thrown a wrench in the gears of many people’s study plans. Additionally, AP tests have altered their format, changing to a 45-minute, online, free-response assessment - a major altercation from the typical 2-3 hour assessments comprising many different styles of questions for which students have been preparing. Junior Abigail Sprinsky finds these changes “frustrating, because now the virus is not only affecting our present, but also our future.” 

Some students, like Sprinksy, worry that all their hard work throughout the year has been in vain, and that these new testing formats will not be able to truly reflect the learning that they have done. As Sprinksy put it: “It seems that the virus has created more questions than answers, which makes our future seem even more daunting and uncertain.” 

However, even though school may not be in session, the NHS community is still thriving as students work together to help support each other amid the confusion. The cooking club delivered baked goods to people's homes and is working on online cooking lessons for students. The Own Your Peace club is compiling a newsletter about mental health to support the community. Student newspaper The Hilltopper is providing live updates on their Instagram (@hilltoppernhs), and created an interactive calendar to keep people busy. 

This is just the tip of the iceberg - just a small sample of the incredibly talented, driven and compassionate students who comprise the student body of Needham High. 

Although this is a confusing and disheartening time, it is also a time when we need to lean on each other the most. The NHS community is resilient and, with support from our community and one another, we will get through this.

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