Student Story: School Works On Ways To Continue Extracurricular Activities In A Virtual World

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By: Paige Britt, Senior, Gateway Regional High School, Woodbury Heights, NJ

WOODBURY HEIGHTS, N.J. — Since the Covid-19 outbreak in March of this year, schools across the country have learned to navigate virtual teaching and online learning. Online classes have been established, hybrid learning has been introduced, and Zoom has become a household name. 

As students and teachers alike have become acclimated to the nature of remote learning, there is a quintessential aspect of the high school experience missing: extracurricular activities. At Gateway Regional High School, staff have begun formulating a way to integrate clubs and activities into the virtual school setting. 

Marissa Pona, head of National Honors Society at Gateway, described the difficulty of running the club during this time. 

“I decided to keep meetings online for the safety of members, but planning and executing successful NHS business has definitely proven difficult without face to face meetings and events,” Pona said. 

Gateway English teacher and co-administrator of Student Council, Adrienne Evans, compared the details of in person participation to that of Zoom meetings. 

“We definitely have seen a drop off in the number of kids attending the online meetings as compared to the in person meetings previously,” Evans stated. “We ended up having a smaller, very hard working and willing group of students that have been trying very hard to continue to make things happen for the student body.”

Pona noted the importance of granting leniency to NHS members while students are getting acquainted with remote learning. 

“Right now what is most important to me is giving members a great deal of grace and space as they navigate these extraordinary times. For example, we usually have strict rules for Attendance, but that is tough to do right now,” Pona said. “It is also very difficult to execute meaningful community service projects when not in person, especially since the safety and comfort of everyone is paramount to me.” 

Evans commented that in some regards leading Student Council through an online format is easier than doing so in person. 

“Gathering the information and keeping track of our survey data to determine what students want has been much easier. We held Homecoming court nominations and the Homecoming voting for King and Queen via electronic forms which made it easier than our usual paper method,” Evans stated. 

On the contrary, Pona mentioned that she finds fully virtual activities far more challenging, but finds the dedication of her students to the organization comforting.  

“National Honor Society is a unique sort of club, with strict rules and expectations for all members,” Pona said. “Having had to ease up has been an interesting exercise for all of us, but I am floored by how resilient, dedicated, and committed to our club the members continue to be, even in the midst of all of this craziness. I guess for me the only thing that is easier this year is to see how great these students really are.”

Both teachers agreed that Gateway will continue to work towards providing students with extracurricular activities in whatever capacity they find safest. 

Evans said, “I would hope that there is an opportunity for the events to happen this year because so many students look forward to participating.  We plan Spirit Weeks, Homecoming, Blood Drives, and so many activities that build the school community so I am hopeful that we hold some of these traditional events.”

Pona added, “Both advisors and students are working hard to navigate these new norms, but I think we will all find our stride and still be able to provide meaningful, fun, and safe extracurriculars for our students.”

While adjustments are being made to accommodate club meetings, the possibility of having theater productions provides an entirely new set of obstacles. 

Gateway’s theater director, Donna Halpin, discussed her plans as of now to put the Fall play on. 

“We are looking into a Zoom production for the fall play. We are either going to do one production with the entire performing arts department or a couple of different productions,” Halpin said. 

As for the likeliness of performing live, Halpin said, “Unfortunately, it is not looking good for in-person live theater within the auditorium. However, we are trying to get some live performance happening outside so audiences can still enjoy the experience!” 

Although Zoom theater is not optional, Halpin stated that she appreciates the creativity of productions done this way. 

“I have seen some Zoom productions. I enjoyed the acting and the creativity that the actors put forth,” Halpin noted. 

Halpin described the details of rehearsing via Zoom, saying it could possibly be more productive. 

“Virtual rehearsals can be held by reviewing lines, practicing facial expressions and really honing in on the ‘character acting.’ It’s a different world for sure, but I think they could possibly be more productive as sometimes in-person rehearsals can get distracting,” Halpin said. 

Despite the setbacks, Halpin predicted that this year will be one of memorable, innovative performances. 

“After discussing the theater program with administration, I believe that this year will be amazing! We have some creative and insightful projects we are going to be creating,” Halpin stated. “I hope the students will be fully on board and that this will be a year that will go down in history for sure!”

While teachers and staff members are working towards an efficient, safe way for students to participate in clubs and activities, student athletes have dealt with this issue since the summer. 

Gateway Regional High School Senior, Sara Sewell, talked about her experience on the varsity Girls Soccer team. 

“I play soccer and I feel that sports obviously aren’t what they were before the pandemic but I’m happy that I still get the opportunity to play for my senior year,” Sewell said. “At the beginning of the fall season my team was doing as much as they could to practice social distancing and wearing a mask when possible.”

Gateway Senior and fellow member of the soccer team, Sydney Abele, recalled the recent Covid-19 outbreak at the high school. 

“Even though we take precautions we still have to quarantine if someone, (not even someone we play with), tests positive. Our senior night was postponed because people from other sports tested positive that day, but I’m excited for our rescheduled one,” Abele said. 

Gateway Senior and member of the Girls Tennis team, Haley Marks, noted the challenges the team has faced. 

“Since we are defending champions in tennis, there is a lot of pressure being put on us. This is made much worse by the Covid outbreak, which took out a few of our key players,” Marks said. 

Abele mentioned the obstacles of trying to host events and fundraisers for the student body. 

“Running student council has been especially difficult this year. We have been trying to have events like homecoming but it’s been really difficult,” Abele stated. “We’re also having problems with having events and then not being able to attend. We have a blood drive coming up but no students can volunteer to help out.”

Marks added, “I am the vice president of our senior class. Covid has made it very frustrating to plan anything at all, since our future is very unclear. The best thing that we can do is be there for our classmates in these difficult times, since no one knows what is really going to happen.”

While students are hopeful about the future of extracurriculars, they are not unaware of the difficulties that lie ahead. 

Abele expressed that although attempts are being made to participate in clubs virtually, the experience is incomparable to in-person activities. 

“I do expect them to happen but I don’t think they’re going to be as good as they were before,” Abele said. “A lot of clubs are trying to switch to a digital format but with tech issues and lack of communication it is very hard to run and participate in club events.”

Marks voiced her concern for the theater program and performing a virtual production. 

“It is very disheartening to think that my senior year musical will very possibly be virtual. Having an audience makes being on stage worth it, and without that element, it is almost pointless,” Marks stated. 

Sewell indicated that she believes extracurriculars will take place, and that online fundraising will play a role in that. 

“I think that a lot of clubs that participate in community service projects will try and find ways to participate virtually to still be able to give back to the community while also fundraising for the club,” Sewell said. “For example, NHS has been fundraising by using a website that when people purchase the products on the website it goes towards fundraising for the club. I think clubs can be able to use similar online platforms in order to participate in community service because they could collect donations and raise money in order to put towards a good cause.”

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