by Huda Ayaz, Anya Chabria, Anika Mittle, and Sarah Hassan
The Wheatley School is back to in-person schooling for the 2020-21 school year though school is much different. Masks are a requirement and distances of 6 feet must be maintained. Students who are medically vulnerable remain at home for remote learning via GoogleMeets from the classroom, to instruct online students along with those who are in person live. A lot has been learned from the experience we endured last year. Students who were juniors in the spring are now seniors in the midst of college applications and significant changes to the way they are experiencing school. During the quarantine, our school made similar efforts in helping Wheatley students adjust, with video calls through GoogleMeet and constant engagement with teachers, but concerns remained among teachers of juniors, their parents, and juniors themselves on how the coronavirus would affect their future.
In the spring of 2020, schools and colleges adapted to the changing times in an attempt to make the indefinite transition to online schooling as smooth as possible. In response to The College Board’s decision to still continue with AP testing in an online and truncated form, colleges were supportive and ensured credit would still be similarly applied as before. Although now some seniors look back at the truncated AP exam format and wish it never happened, others found it easier and preferred it to the full exams. However, we were left in the dark about the exact scaling of this new system, as well as final exams, until much later in the school year. A Herricks junior shared a similar concern, “One thing I am worried about is how this will affect college decisions as many of our summer opportunities have been canceled and grades may not be in our favor.” Either way, CollegeBoard is set on administering the full exams in the 2020-21 school year no matter what happens. As stated on their website: “AP will support in-school testing in 2021 because administering exams in schools maximizes access and opportunity, and we’ll provide a contingency testing option—that contains full course content—if school buildings close for safety concerns.”
As seniors, standardized exams like the SAT and ACT are still being cancelled left and right. Fortunately, many of Wheatley’s rising seniors were able to get in at least one test day, which is different from years past when students were able to take the standardized exams multiple times to achieve their best score possible. However, some have still been unable to take a single exam and will have to go test-optional. One Wheatley senior describes how her testing site was cancelled multiple times in August. “I ended up resorting to a site that was a 4 hour drive away. It was hard on my dad who had to drive me there early in the morning and also wait while I took the exam.” Many colleges expressed that applications for the Class of 2021 will be different. Currently, more than two-thirds of US colleges will be test-optional to account for the cancelled SAT and ACT dates.
Outside the academic arena, extracurriculars play an important role in many students’ lives. With school and activities cancelled all throughout the country, many high school students are left wondering how they can continue to build their extracurricular profile. High school juniors in particular, were anxious, as the spring of junior year is typically a preparation period for college applications. Most juniors use this time to take the SAT/ACT, enhance extracurriculars, and tour colleges. However, their summers and now their falls have been altered. Research opportunities, summer plans, competitions, championships, jobs, and sports were cancelled. The college admissions committee, however, is aware of these sudden changes and disadvantages and promise to not hold it against students when it comes to applying. Instead, they encourage students to be resourceful. According to Susan Chan Shifflett, a former assistant director of admissions at Yale University, they want to see “who made the most lemonade out of lemons?” or “who made the most of the resources available to them?” Students are currently at a disadvantage, but look for different ways to engage, even though they may not be as grand as what they previously aimed for.
Student-Teacher Remote Interactions
The altered nature of student-teacher interactions was another issue many juniors faced in the spring of 2020 and that remote seniors are now facing in the fall. There’s a huge difference between being able to speak in person with your teachers about problems you’re having with the lesson in class versus through an email or virtual meet. Though at Wheatley, we try to bridge this gap with video meetings, many students feel it’s not the same. It can feel difficult to take in information or force yourself to work when a teacher isn’t there to guide you; so many seniors learning remotely fear they won’t retain information well. “It’s hard dealing with the technological barriers. In some classes, teachers forget to turn the GoogleMeet on and in others, I can hardly see the board,” one senior shared. Problems in focusing and staying in touch with teachers are continuing now, though teachers put in as many efforts as possible to engage online students and make sure they are following along. The added difficulty of getting letters of recommendations also came up since many seniors often ask their junior teachers for a letter. One Wheatley senior shares that “because class was now online, it was difficult to maintain the same atmosphere that we had in person and everyone was much quieter. This made it harder to maintain relationships with teachers although we all worked hard to keep in touch!”
Because of the change in student-teacher interaction and class engagement, our school recognized that student grades could suffer during the spring of 2020. According to one Wheatley junior, one of the most difficult aspects of quarantine was “…concentrating and being disciplined in a home environment to continue schoolwork as usual, while also dealing with lots of outside stress from the pandemic.” It was notably tough to maintain academic expectations when grades were built on getting assignments in on time. Since junior year is the last full year that grades are submitted to colleges, this was a major point of concern. Long Island schools addressed this issue differently: some reverted to a Pass-Fail system, and others kept their grading scales the same.
Wheatley found a sort of happy medium: the A/B/P/F system. Dr. Feeney, Wheatley’s principal, assured Wheatley students to fear not, however, as a “no harm policy” was employed “regarding work that took place during the first few weeks of Remote Learning. This policy prevented Q3 averages from decreasing from where they were on 13 March.” Schools worked their hardest to make the situation work for all students. As for juniors specifically, in a time where thoughts of college and the future invaded our minds, Dr. Feeney emphasizes the continuation of Junior College Meetings with students, parents and counselors. “Clearly these are being done through Google Meet,” he acknowledged, “but they have been productive in helping students focus on this important process.” To make things worse, AP tests were being included in some classes as a formal grade. While students were glad that the APs weren’t being treated as a final, the decision to add them as a test did add to their stress. By forcing the results into their fourth quarter grade, the school may have inadvertently added stress to an already-anxious situation.
Now in our senior year, Senior College Meetings have been held as a follow-up and guidance counselors are doing their best to assist both remote and in-school students in their college applications.
Although it was an unprecedented, strange, and difficult time for all of us, students were able to get through it. Remember to stay hopeful! Colleges are aware of the situation we went through as juniors and are now going through as seniors. They are doing their best to take everything into account, from going test optional to accepting college credit from APs from the 2019-20 school year despite their truncated format. In New York, where much of the coronavirus outbreak in the United States was focused in the spring, the best we can do is continue to adhere to instructions from authorities and stay at home when possible, knowing that colleges are aware of the conditions we are facing now.