More than a year ago, the entire world shut down due to a newly-discovered virus called COVID-19, forcing all school activities to adapt. Entire operations which were premised on the ability to be in person had to be adapted to the new virtual world. Although the light at the end of the tunnel now seems visible, some of the changes made and lessons learned during the pandemic may stick.
The Service Club has always been based on being able to go out into the community to do service, but one of the leaders of the club, Senior Jeffrey Smrha-Monroe, says that it has not been that simple this year: “Organizing service opportunities hasn’t been too hard this year, but we are restricted in what we do. In particular, we can’t have large group activities like working at centers or events so drives have been the focus of our work. I think this is unfortunate, given that it doesn’t allow for our members to get involved very much and give back to the community for service hours,” he says.
The club’s faculty sponsor, Bill Gollier, had much the same to say. “The biggest thing that has changed is that it is really hard to go out and physically do things,” says Gollier, “because a lot of agencies don’t want, or aren’t allowed to have other people from outside. For example, we are not allowed to go down to LCS (Lawrence Community Shelter), which is something we’ve always done. So we’ve had to concentrate on supporting different groups and different agencies with drives and collecting items and things like that.”.
MATHCounts has been a staple of middle school math competitions for several years, and this past season is no exemption. One brave soul, sixth grader Charlie Maples, participated in the competition and made it all the way to the state competition. Asked about how he felt about the competition being virtual, Maples responded, “I feel like we all got used to it, regardless. I personally would want to do it in person for the teams, however, nobody else did it.”
The faculty sponsor, James LaRocca, added, “One thing we definitely lost because of quarantine is having our regular after-school practices. With everything else going on this year, I had a lot of students who would normally do MATHCOUNTS say they just didn’t have time to put that on their plate this year. . . . MATHCOUNTS, in my opinion, has done a great job of moving everything digital. Everything has been on iPads, students have just had to be proctored while taking their test digitally from home, they have had online practices and tests. . . . But, I would like to see, in the future, going back to more in person practices.”
Topeka Model United Nations has always been, as with actual governance, conducted in person. But this year, a number of delegates from Seabury participated in a greatly altered virtual version of the conference, which traditionally takes place at the Ramada Inn in Topeka. Eighth grader Hugh Griggs was one of many delegates who braved the new virtual debate format. “While virtual Model UN certainly hampered the effect of speeches,” says Griggs, “I still enjoyed the competition as a whole. With computers, I was able to write speeches and conduct research on the spot.” In this case, certain changes meant to facilitate a virtual conference may actually improve Model UN in the long run.
So what lessons have the participants and leaders taken from this time? Smrha-Monroe says that with service, anything helps: “A lesson I think the Service Club should take into the future is that something simple is better than nothing. It’s incredibly satisfying to have a complex plan go exactly how you want, but sometimes what you expected doesn’t happen and a few things have to be dropped. . . . Also use your members more. . . . Even if it’s putting up signs, checking something, or making posters, a single person doing one thing is better than one person doing everything.”
LaRocca finished out his thoughts with some hopes for future competitions: “If they keep doing online practice tests, I think that would be great. I like how they have the chapter competition, [which] was “anyone can do it,” and then, since they were all on devices, they then took the top four or five students to move forward. I would not be surprised if they kept doing some of those types of things to limit the number of students participating.”