Service from a Distance

Community members find unique ways to remain involved during quarantine

Alexandra Gergova, Cheryl Chen, and Trisha Patel

“Coronart” Classes:

Flooded with feelings of boredom tinged with loneliness, Jacob Chan ’20 suddenly found himself inspired by a desire for creativity and social immersion during a time of social distancing. After discovering that his friends were posting their artistic pursuits online, Chan organized an online art session entitled “Coronart Class” and digitally extended the invitation to Stevenson students by means of Facebook and Facebook’s texting extension, Messenger. 

Although Chan was certain that he wanted to create an artistic session to creatively involve a larger section of the Stevenson population, he initially struggled with how to effectively organize such an activity.

“I have random spurts of energy and creativity,” Chan said. “So, I was thinking that because I’m not a person that reaches out to people, an art class was an easier way to reach out to more people––especially less social people––online.”

Inspired by his friends’ art, Chan reached out to fellow students Bridget Zhu ’20, Abigail Li ’20 and Alexis Lee ’20 with a proposal to lead his online class, all of who agreed to teach activities ranging from copy art lessons to sticker tutorials using mundane household objects. Hoping to maintain artistic liberties, Chan allowed for each of the instructors to independently organize and lead their own activities.

“None of the art stuff was my idea,” Chan said.  “I simply organized the activity to occur around noon because that’s usually when the lull hits and you feel like you’re not doing anything.”

According to Chan, the merits of an online “Coronart” class are bountiful. Given the social isolation that is occurring as a result of COVID-19, inclusive online activities aid students by enabling them to remain in contact with those they would typically encounter on a regular basis. 

“Having these spurts of random activities going around where people don’t really have any other option but to check in gives us just a little bit more hope to keep going,” Chan said. “We’ve got our friends present, and it’s a good place to be able to see everybody again.”

Like Chan, Jane Pak ’20 recently found herself bored by her repetitive quarantine schedule and found the prospect of socializing with her friends and academic acquaintances through an online art class exciting. 

“I participated because a lot of my friends were, and I really missed the social interaction,” Pak said. “I think technology can really help unite us in times like these.”

In addition to increasing social opportunities, online activities aid students by providing a semblance of structure to their routines. According to Pak, her repetitive routine was pleasantly interrupted by Chan’s digital art class.

“My quarantine schedule has been just lounging around with no structure at all,” Pak said. “As of late, I have been trying to shower and get dressed every morning to give myself some indication of normalcy, and I think this art class helped add to this.”

While the structure disruptions and artistic lessons were of benefit, Chan found that the social immersion brought about by his online class was the most important effect of his activity. According to Chan, the factor determining the success of his class is how elevated the participants’ moods were afterward.

“If people felt better that day, which is a very qualitative thing and not necessarily something you can measure, it was successful to me,” Chan said. “I think the real value was just sitting around and talking while everyone was drawing or making their own stickers.” 

 

Community Service:

As she submits her final assignment for the school day, Manal Syed ’20 finds herself with more free time than she has had in months. Like many high schoolers in the country, Syed is faced with learning to adjust her life as a student due to the influence of the Covid-19 outbreak.  

As much of Syed’s week was previously spent on community projects such as Free the Children and tutoring elementary schoolers, she looks for ways to continue to stay involved from home. “Getting involved doesn’t have to fit a certain boundary or definition,” Syed said. “It can be creating an organization, donating or even sympathizing with people you know who are struggling during this pandemic and validating their concerns.”

With 34 statewide stay-at-home orders as of April 1 according to CNN, owners of small businesses have been experiencing a loss of business and forced to lay off staff.  Syed has hopes to stay involved by working with the Syed-Barri Foundation, her family organization, to fill out the United States Small Business Administration (SBA) application for disaster loans to help businesses and homeowners affected by the coronavirus. 

“Right now it’s less supplies and more being the mediator in helping people get the government resource,” Syed said. “The application can be very overwhelming so we act as the middlemen for them in these situations.”

In addition to application mentoring, Syed has raised awareness for the foundation as a place to donate food by starting a chain of Instagram Stories encouraging people to give back.  According to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), in 2016, over 30.4 million students received free or low-cost meals in their school cafeterias. For these students, school closures meant a loss of a food source. These stories also encourage individuals for whom meals are a concern to contact her or the foundation for help. 

“It’s hard to recognize the people who are in need unless those who are privileged enough to help make an effort for those who don’t have the ability to advocate for themselves,” Syed said. 

Some school clubs have also found ways to remain active in the community during the current lapse in face-to-face meetings. The Stevenson Band has been raising money to provide warm meals for front line workers in hospitals. Starting with a goal of around $2500, the GoFundMe page has raised over twice the amount in less than a week with help from band families and community members. 

“The band considers itself to be a big family, so part of our mission is to help better the community and those in need as much as possible” Mariam Reichert ’20, Band Executive Board member, said. “We all decided that a great way for us to help while also staying socially distant would be through ordering meals for the hospital staff to enjoy during these long work hours.”

Reichert believes finding ways to give back to the community is more important now than ever. For her, being involved is more than organized efforts to fundraise or help with financial struggles — it can also be as simple as reaching out for conversation. “The biggest thing about this is staying connected and showing people you care about them,” Reichert said.

Syed also believes that connectedness is key, and urges people to continue to share their stories and efforts online. For her, encouraging people to help others in the community can also reinforce the severity of the situation. 

“By being able to help people in need one-on-one, it creates a personalized connection that only further emphasizes the severity of this pandemic creating a cycle of awareness where people are beginning to comprehend how urgent the cautionary guidelines are,” Syed said. 

 

Creative Involvement at SHS:

Spanish teacher Raquel Antillera found herself working up a sweat as she led Zumba Club just like every other Wednesday––however, nothing about this particular session was truly normal. With students and faculty following via Zoom while Antillera led from her apartment’s rooftop, this Workout Wednesday was part of the larger Stevenson “virtual spirit week” initiative in response to mandated social distancing.

Because in-person communication was rendered impossible by Illinois’ temporary shutdown Antillera said finding other ways to connect with students is more important than ever. So when Ted Goergen, the Director of Student Activities, asked her to lead a virtual Zumba session, she immediately accepted.

“Staying at home and behind our computer screens is not the way we humans communicate––we see each other, we shake hands, we give hugs,” Antillera said. “Seeing each other’s faces is, in my opinion, a priority.”

Goergen recognizes how widespread Antillera’s sentiments are among the Stevenson community According to him, the Student Activities division immediately began brainstorming possible solutions following the announcement of quaratine, recognizing that many Stevenson students thrive because of their opportunities to connect with staff, faculty and fellow peers.

“How can we make sure that, in addition to receiving great learning opportunities, students are still able to connect with each other and the Stevenson community?” Goergen said. “The virtual spirit week took off from that question.” 

But Goergen points out that while it may seem like Stevenson is currently doing more than usual to maintain community, this is only because many of the day-to-day efforts are overlooked. Goergen feels that although Stevenson does a great job with large events like Homecoming and Streetfest, equivalent effort is put into making “normal” days extraordinary too.

“Student Activities tries to make every day a little bit better for students on campus, with the ice skating rink or cookie decorating as examples,” Goergen said. “People just assume that these activities just happen in schools, but in reality, it’s not what most schools do.”

Molly McCoy ’20, a member of the Student Council Executive Board, accompanied Goergen’s statement with insight about Student Council’s behind-the-scenes efforts. Given Stevenson’s large student body size, new events like the ice skating rink and cookie decorating are always being considered and tested––and according to McCoy, that means things don’t always go as planned.

“As the historian for Student Council, I take people’s reflections following each event or lunchtime activity that we host,” McCoy said. “We try to thoroughly reflect on what worked or what did not and change the process so that these events are always getting better.”

This same reflection process occurs for these virtual spirit weeks. According to Goergen, his team is making changes to keep students connected. For example, while last week’s spirit week was more passive, Workout Wednesday and Tik Tok Tuesday were meant to foster more active engagement this week. Looking towards the future, Goergen and his team plan to use student participation/feedback to better accomplish their goal: meet students where they’re at during this period.

Ultimately, Goergen believes these virtual efforts will be effective in maintaining community only in the short-run. In the long-term, nothing can truly substitute for the in-person interaction between students, faculty and staff––a sentiment with which Antillera agrees.

“My students are ‘la luz de mi vida’ [the light of my life],” Antillera said. “More than my students getting 3’s on assessments, what brings me the most joy is having that trust with my students, that nice atmosphere. I see technology only as a complement to in-person communication. I don’t think that the human interaction can ever be fully replaced with anything”