March 12th marks one year exactly since Talbot County Public Schools enacted a two-week school shut-down due to Covid-19. Sitting at home that Friday afternoon watching Governor Hogan’s press conference with Dr. Karen Salmon was extremely surreal, and this would mark the beginning of a long and difficult set of procedures taken by the school system to ensure the student's and faculty's safety during the Covid-19 pandemic. I think it was hard for all of us to comprehend the gravity of the situation that early on.
I remember how everyone was so psyched for two weeks off of school, not realizing that Friday was the last day of in-person learning that year, and the last normal day of high school for the foreseeable future.
During the two-week school shutdown, Principal Kirk Howie would post updates on the EHS Instagram page. These updates ranged from notifying seniors about upcoming virtual senior meetings, to the organization of safe social distanced food distribution. Along with these updates, teachers, and EHS faculty would post words of encouragement from their homes via Instagram, where students would comment and interact with their teachers virtually, catching up and letting them know what they’ve been doing over the shutdown, or requesting a future video by their favorite teacher.
With hindsight, it’s clear to me just how crucial this shutdown period was, as it gave teachers and faculty precious time to completely rework the current structure for education and rebuild it into an entirely virtual setting. One press conference after another and the two-week school shutdown quickly turned into a two-month shutdown. TCPS staff would meet digitally to discuss the student distance continuity for learning. Distance learning surveys were sent out to students and families to get their opinions on virtual learning, to meet everyone’s needs. This process was not without its hurdles, and there were many challenges we all had to face when adapting to this new form of learning.
With May approaching, more hurdles came our way, the upcoming AP Exams and senior graduation being the two big ones. Graduation became a three-day outside event done right in front of the high school, with seniors and their families packed into their cars driving up and receiving their diplomas safely. AP Exams were able to be done completely online, with College Board shortening the material and time limit for these exams, while also allowing them to be open note. The 2019-2020 school year was coming to a close, easily earning the title of weirdest school year yet, but the 2020-2021 school year wasn’t far away, and during the first few days of summer, the school had already gotten to work planning for what was to be an interesting first day back.
After what seemed like an endless summer, school was back in session, beginning with computer distribution and a few weeks of virtual classes before a new system was put in place. This A day B day system split the number of kids attending school at any given time in half. Half would go into the building with masks, and the other half would stay virtual. This made for a far safer in-person environment, where fellow students and I could finally see our teachers face to face again. This wouldn’t last however, as the number of cases in the US began to increase exponentially, we were forced to go back to completely virtual learning. Months later of somewhat smooth sailing, the number of cases had dropped to a point where we were allowed back in school. The same type of hybrid learning we tested out earlier in the year picked right back up again, with some students choosing to stay completely virtual, and others going in on A or B day. EHS student Ashley Malczewski, when asked about the recent transition into hybrid learning said, “I think TCPS handled the pandemic well. As soon as it was safe, they had us back in school. They took our safety and our need for education into consideration and found a perfect balance.”
Teachers and faculty were forced to adapt not only for classroom learning but also for extracurricular activities like school clubs, and sports. Many school clubs have been meeting virtually ever since the new school year started up, and I know that the B.E.S.T. Club at EHS has thrived in this virtual setting due to the fact that we can invite guest speakers from our community to speak on a zoom call, guests that might not have been able to attend in person. I also know It’s Academic has also been able to thrive over zoom, as well as several other clubs and Honor Societies.
Spring sports, like Soccer and Football have started up again, and the core sentiment is pretty much the same. Despite a few differences, student-athletes and coaches are having a successful season and everyone seems extremely thankful to be able to play once again. Luke Adelman, senior at EHS and one of the Boys Varsity soccer team captains said, “Although it’s easy to complain about having to mask-up during heavy exercise outdoors, beyond that not much has changed for soccer. We have the same drive and focus on tactics and team building, especially for seniors like myself who want to make the most out of this final opportunity.” EHS Varsity Football player Henry Booth echoes this sentiment when stating, “It’s certainly been odd with the virtual and asynchronous stuff going down, but overall I think it’s been pretty solid. Everything’s been relatively similar aside from masks and social distancing. Really stinks to miss out on our traditions like team dinners and high diving the fans post-game, but overall the guys are just happy to be out and playing.”
This sentiment is not only seen in students, but in coaches too. When asked about what her team is doing differently this year, Meghan Joy the JV Girls Soccer coach at EHS said, “The school had to make a huge transition amongst the pandemic to continue any sport. Girls are required to wear masks the entire practice, not share pennies, and be temperature checked before practice. At the end of every practice, we have to wash pennies & wipe off cones we used that day. We aren't allowed to have a giant water jug, so we have to bring individual water bottles that they can't share. When we go to away games there is a bus seating chart, they are not allowed to eat or drink on the bus and there is only one person per seat. I'm happy & thankful to coach a season, amongst a pandemic even with all the requirements.” I think the overwhelmingly positive response from those playing sports and attending hybrid classes shows the true merit of our communities’ resilience and overall flexibility.
In hindsight, it’s been a very odd and challenging year. But now more than ever, it’s clear that things are not only improving but we are learning more and more every step of the way. I know that this past year has proved at least one thing, that as a community we can persevere and overcome any obstacle in front of us. Mia Terry, a senior at SMES, put it best when asked to summarize this past year; “In the beginning, everyone didn’t fully understand what was going on. All we knew was that we were going to be out of school for a couple of weeks. Toward the end of the year, some students were able to go back into the school twice a week, while others stayed virtual. After a year of this change, our school has adapted to finding ways that are safe for students and making the school year feel as normal as possible.” Looking back on a year of Covid-19 there has been a lot of hard decisions and sacrifices that we’ve had to make, and hardships we’ve had to endure. But we’ve persevered because that’s just what we do. Who knows what the future holds? Who knows how this school year will end? All that is certain, is that we will keep moving forward.