Here’s our weekly summary of stories in student newspapers at Illinois high schools.
How’s remote learning going?
Some districts in the state have made valiant attempts to resume in-person learning, formerly known as “school,” with varying degrees of success in the middle of the pandemic. With a synopsis and report from a few suburban schools, Hannah Sussman writes in the student newspaper at New Trier High School in Wilmette that both Loyola Academy and Rochelle Zell Jewish High School were forced to close down after a brief reopening, while Lake Forest Academy and New Trier have been able to maintain schedules that include some in-person learning. “For all of our classes starting with advisory, right before we leave we have to sanitize the desks, wipe them down, … wipe the chair down, and sanitize all of the desks in the classroom even if we didn’t touch them,” one LFA junior was quoted as saying.
Getting infected with the virus isn’t the only aspect of remote learning that has teachers and students worried, though; there’s also the technology platform and the inherent constraints of talking to a computer screen. “I would say it’s not because of Zoom, but it’s because we have to do school this way,” one teacher at Downers Grove South High School was quoted as saying by Andrew Calek in The Blueprint. “You and I are talking one-on-one and I can see your reactions to what I’m saying, but when I have a class of 36, it’s really hard to see how kids are reacting to the material you are trying to get across.”
Exhaustion just starts to set in after 15-year-olds have to spend six hours on any given day in front of a computer screen, writes Aria Jain in the Glenbrook South Oracle. “Spending six or more hours sitting in front of a screen takes its toll on both your body and mind,” she writes. But, hoping for a silver lining to this cloud, she also writes at the Glenview school, “The more we act as if we are in person, the smoother the transition will be when we return. By doing so, we prevent these habits from continuing during in-person learning.”
Downstream effects of e-learning
One such habit is procrastination, which is often well developed in high school students anyway. Remote learning adds to it, though, reports Chloe Barbarise in The Tom Tom at Antioch Community High School. “I feel like the days are just flying by, but I’m not getting much done,” one senior told the paper. “It gets a little boring waking up, then sitting at the same desk for hours upon hours doing work online.” When teachers extend the due dates, as many have done during remote learning, it doesn’t help.
The anxiety that e-learning brings just makes it worse. Social anxiety, in particular, which is a constant fear of being watched and judged by others, can be exacerbated in high school students by e-learning and Zoom classrooms. “The video format draws attention to their appearance, something many high school students are already self-conscious about,” writes Molly Muscato in Drops of Ink at Libertyville High School, citing what one student told her. “Others mentioned that the dynamics of breakout rooms can increase one’s hesitancy to share ideas or ask questions because students typically communicate less in breakout rooms, making those who do feel awkward.”
General mental health concerns also worry educators and students alike, reports Alexandrium Flores at Whitney Young Magnet High School in Chicago. “My eyes and brain hurt,” one junior told The Beacon student newspaper. “I can’t stand spending seven hours a day looking at my computer screen just to end up looking at it again for another couple hours for [homework].” “I am emotionally exhausted,” another said. “I am completely stressed out and think I am missing an assignment every day. I feel like I am falling behind on my classwork and feel unmotivated for school.”
What can be done? “Lots of times we forget to check in with ourselves and our mental well being, as well as taking a self-care day,” opines Ashley Whigam in The Clarion, the student newspaper at Riverside Brookfield High School. She recommends taking a walk outside, having a family night, cooking or baking one of your favorites, getting creative, chilling out, calling friends, going to a spa, and meditating, among other things.
One student reporter at Warren Township High School in Gurnee interviews a former student, who thinks schools can do more to check in on students, and a current student, who attests to the mental health impacts of not being in school: “Yes, the online aspect can be great at times, but with my mental health I need interactions with others,” one junior at the school was quoted as saying in The Scratch Paper.
Missing the enjoyment of high school
Moreover, something’s missing, right? Senior Lexie Lukacik at Downers Grove South High School, who prints a pic of herself and friends at a DGS football game last year, says Friday night is now the “worst day of the week” without friends at football games. “Just thinking of how [Friday night lights] will be cancelled for the fall makes my head burn like the pizza you would forget in your oven for an hour,” she writes in The Blueprint. But next year, just wait: she says she’ll be back, and when that happens, the front row of bleachers is hers.
The postponement of most of the fall sports has also been a cause for concern among student-athletes at one championship school in Chicago. “It’s not just the feeling of being on the field,” one football senior told The Caravan at Mt Carmel Catholic High School, “but also the scholarship opportunities and the exposure we are losing.” Reporter Andrew Robustelli writes that coaches still encourage student-athletes not to “slack off.”
And without football, many Homecoming dances have been cancelled or postponed, including the one at Mt Carmel. “There is no way to have a Homecoming dance that is fun and safe right now,” Blayr Young quoted the student council vice president as saying.
Analysis and activism over returning to in-person instruction
Extensive analyses of the e-learning idea, written up by Raven Easterly and Sara Rand in The Fielder at Plainfield Central High School in a point-counterpoint style, presents good evidence on both sides of the remote-vs-in-person argument. Ms Easterly, who argues that online school is better because teachers are required to be accessible more of the time and classes can be recorded for students who might miss material, writes that there’s more to gain from school online than just getting to wake up later. But Ms Rand argues that in-person instruction creates the social interactions that teens need. Technology glitches—including malfunctions of the recording feature Ms Easterly brought up—and teacher discomfort with the new technology give her argument legs, but I have to come down on her side. Online meetings are fine for accountants who need to share a spreadsheet, but learning is a highly social activity: we learn as we bounce ideas off of each other and challenge each other to think more deeply. That doesn’t happen in a Zoom classroom or a breakout room.
So what will the future of e-learning look like in our communities? An equally extensive analysis, written up by Zachary Bahar, Lauren Dain, Bridget Baker, Meg Houseworth, Stella Israelite, Jessica Sehgal, and Sofia Williams at Evanston Township High School, promises that a series of articles in the student newspaper will examine e-learning and try to untangle, as much as possible, the web it has created, where every issue is intricately but unexplainably linked to every other issue. “Say a curriculum is changing,” they write in The Evanstonian. “Why is this the case? There’s less class time to teach it, but, more importantly, school requires students, in a community, working together. That can’t happen during e-learning. Why can’t communities develop? There’s a lack of connection due to the fragmented nature of e-learning, a fragmented nature caused in part by feelings of isolation and alienation that have dominated this year.” See what they mean?
With issues as complicated as this, there are so many arguments to make that people just sometimes resort to picket signs and protests. Parents from several suburban districts, including Naperville 203 and Orland Park High School District 230, marched last week in Naperville to demand that schools resume in-person learning. “I watched my children not do well with remote learning and become more and more hopeless,” Amisha Sethi and Cameron Rozek quoted one of the event organizers as saying in The Central Times at Naperville Central High School. “Prior to this I have not been a big advocate for kids with IEPs or anything, but this really hit home.” Driving it home even further, Tessa Devine and Peter Harrison at Naperville North High School quoted a North senior’s mom in The North Star: “We are absolutely in favor of [students] wearing masks, being socially distanced, and cutting class sizes in half. But we definitely want them in school learning for social, emotional, and academic well-being.”
Some pandemic standouts
A former teacher at Elk Grove High School in Elk Grove Village told The Guardian student newspaper that plexiglass shields he saw at home improvement stores inspired him to build 30 desk shields for the school, writes Luka Turanjanin. “For teachers and students it’s such a difficult situation,” the paper quoted Keith Mukai, who taught English at the school about eight years ago, as saying. “I wanted to find a way to make that difficult situation better but … lets teachers work with students [as they did] even before the virus.” A GoFundMe page he set up helped to raise $465 for the construction materials.
The pandemic has also provided an opportunity for Jeff Pape and Katie Kempff at The X-Ray student newspaper at St Charles East High School to rebrand their “Herd in the Halls” series as “Zoom Zingers,” a collection of random quotes from students heard this year not in the hallways of the high school but rather in Zoom classrooms. Among the zingers:
- I haven’t left my bed in 22 hours, I’m not breaking that streak for physics.
- Yeah, I said my camera was broken but I really just looked ugly.
General election is just a few weeks away
High school 18-year-olds across the country are excited to vote in this year’s general election, including those at St Patrick Catholic High School in Chicago, thanks to the 26th Amendment, ratified in 1971, reports Aidan Lewis in The Green and Gold. “At Saint Patrick High School, a majority of our eligible seniors plan to vote in the 2020 presidential election and want to make a difference in our country,” he wrote.
Other teens from suburban high schools are going to work the polls, subbing in for older poll workers who have fears of Covid-19, reports Allie Emmet at Downers Grove North High School. “I think it’s really important for young people to work the election this year because older people usually do it. Because of Covid-19, a lot of them are being cautious and staying home this year,” one junior was quoted as saying in The DGN Omega.
If those 18-year-olds share the feelings of an op-ed in The Wildcat Chronicle at West Chicago Community High School, they’re going to be voting “this fake billionaire … out of office,” referring to President Donald Trump. “And if he wants to continue evading his taxes, then he’ll be treated as a criminal like Al Capone.”
A more two-sided and thorough approach to coverage of the presidential election comes to us from Morgan Bielski at Lake Forest High School, who examines each candidate’s views on an array of issues in The Forest Scout. Issues include abortion, climate change, Covid-19, the economy, gun control, healthcare, immigration, and race, criminal justice, and police reform.
An issue Ms Bielski doesn’t cover is one that comes up every time one candidate receives a majority of votes in the Electoral College and the other receives a majority of the popular vote between the two candidates. This happened most recently in the elections of 2000 and 2016. At Prairie Ridge High School in Crystal Lake, Dimitri Vuyadinov and Grant Preves have a little debate, asking whether the US needs the Electoral College. The debate was filmed before the pandemic (so Mr Vuyadinov and Mr Preves aren’t wearing masks), but it is just now being published in The Wolf Prints.
Social media has also been in the news much more during Mr Trump’s term than it has during the terms of all past presidents combined. Pravalika Balajivaishnavi at Metea Valley High School in Aurora wonders about the president’s motives, for example, in making such a big deal over TikTok’s US operations. “I understand why he might ban TikTok for protecting the citizens, but my question would be, Why now?” she writes in Metea Media. “After two years of TikTok being operational in the US, Trump has suddenly decided to target TikTok during the pandemic.” She suspects the battles over the app, as well as money from its China-based parent company and thousands of jobs created in the US, will win votes.
But by far, the biggest social media spike in politics since Mr Trump took office in 2017 has been on Twitter, based on the president’s own Twitter handle. One student at Lake Zurich High School seems to have figured out the real value (and best use) of Twitter in an election year: “Twitter gives me the ability to challenge my ideas or tell me that my ideas are right,” he is quoted as saying by Sasha Kek in The Bear Facts. “Here’s the thing: Some people on social media live in a rabbit hole, right? All they hear is their opinion and nobody else’s. And when somebody tries to dispel their opinion, they get really upset. The only reason that I would use Twitter is either (a) quote a politician’s reaction, or (b) quote the president’s reaction. So it’s never to use as information.”
Social justice and systemic racism
The police shooting of Breonna Taylor helped push the Black Lives Matter movement into high gear and gave life to feelings in us all about police activity. In an article titled “194 days too long,” referring to the time between Ms Taylor’s death and the indictment of a police officer in connection with her death, Faith Lee at Homewood-Flossmoor High School writes in The Voyager, “Taylor’s life represents more than a trendy hashtag to gain a few more likes. She was a human. A human whose life mattered just as much as the next person’s. … The protests this weekend will prove how fed up we are of injustice.”
Police shootings of Black individuals, such as Ms Taylor, represent the tip of the iceberg that is systemic racism in the US. “The U.S wealth gap, employment gap, and education gap can all be attributed to systems of inequality in society,” writes Kurowei Indiamaowei at William Fremd High School in Palatine in The Viking Logue. The fact that many poorer communities, filled with mostly minority individuals, have only convenience stores, not known for a healthy selection of food, and no regular grocery stores means that “Inadequate access to healthy food usually leads to a wide assortment of health issues and diseases.”
From Palatine High School, Sophia Stupen writes in The Cutlass that the All Lives Matter movement “invalidates” the BLM movement. She explains how:
During the week of August 25 … a Black man named Jacob Blake was shot seven times in the back for attempting to break up a fight, while a white minor named Kyle Rittenhouse was allowed to walk free after murdering two people and injuring multiple others with an illegal AR-15 gun.
She says she hopes the US will vote politicians out of office who bring minorities down, including Mr Trump.
In addition to voting, students hope to end future instances of discrimination by publishing their stories at the University of Chicago Lab School, report Ella Beiser and Nicky Edwards-Levin in The U-High Midway. Stories of how students at the school have faced discrimination in their lives can be posted to an Instagram account. “There’s always been this idea that the Lab is too good, too liberal, too progressive to have students dealing with these issues,” one junior was quoted as saying. “And obviously, just looking at the stories, that’s just not true.”
A more formal reporting system at the school, reports Clare O’Connor in The U-High Midway, will allow students to report bias, discrimination, and antagonistic behavior online. “We don’t want the burden of sharing experiences to be on students,” the director of diversity, equity, and inclusion, who will oversee the operation of the new system, was quoted as saying. “We want the school to be a safe place for people to report things so that we are able to do what we need to do on our end to learn about particular situations and respond.”
Speaking of diversity and inclusion, two teachers at Lyons Township High School in LaGrange worked with students to create a mural dedicated to that theme, reports Brianna Fonseca in The Lion Online. “I wanted this mural specifically to capture a very important time we are living: a movement led by youth in search for equity across all sectors of society. It was important for it to be reflected on our walls at LT,” Jorge Sanchez, the Hispanic liaison, was quoted as saying. The school is also leading other initiatives to “open up the conversation about racism and exclusion at LT,” reports Lillie George in the student newspaper.
Equality, or lack thereof, in art
The theme of anti-misogyny has also infected young people across the country: it is now prominent in music, write Jojo Wertheimer, Nora Miller, and Annie Johnson in The Evanstonian at Evanston Township High School. They explain how the current Billboard #1 hit, Cardi B and Megan Thee Stallion’s “WAP,” graphically describes “sexual situations, holding nothing back.” Despite criticism, which is expected with lyrics like these, based on 60 years of rock’n’roll history, the two talented rappers, “Black female artists, … express their own sexuality and celebrate women’s freedom to speak as freely as men would.”
And just as kids are listening to Cardi B and Megan Thee Stallion, they’re reading Dr Ibram X Kendi, who visited Crone Middle School in Naperville in March. His book Stamped: Racism, Antiracism and You is part of a “Global Read Aloud” program, the brainchild of Crone librarian Mary Yockey and Saloni Trivedi, a student at Neuqua Valley High School. Global Read Aloud runs under the auspices of the Diversify Our Narrative club, which aims to “encourage inclusiveness of race and identity through progressive education,” one book at a time, writes Augustine Gallespen in The Echo student newspaper at the high school. Many schools have organized Diversify Our Narrative clubs, including schools in Ventura County, California.
Books have always been a source of new ideas and forward thinking in America. The “books to read during remote learning” list in The Conant Crier at Conant High School in Hoffman Estates features eight books by nine authors: Ashley Elston, Erica L Sánchez, Lauren Oliver, Karen M McManus, Sarah Dessen, Cecelia Ahern, Ned Vizzini and Rachel Cohn, and Bethany C Morrow. Ms Morrow is Black, and Ms Sánchez is Hispanic; the remaining authors are White.
Yet one-ninth representation on a list of authors, where the list was not selected for its diversity but rather for its appeal to high school readers, is nowhere near as bad as what Disney pulled with the movie Mulan, which is reviewed for the students at Hinsdale South High School in Darien by Safia Khan in The Stinger. Ms Khan doesn’t even bother to tell her readers if the movie’s any good, focusing instead on the scandal underscored in the film’s credits and in social media posts by people associated with the film. “In the closing credits, Disney specially thanked certain political organizations for granting them access to film in certain areas,” she wrote. “One of those places was Xinjiang, where China’s concentration camps are primarily housed.” Because of the scandal, she recommends joining the #BoycottMulan movement.
Perhaps a better movie to see would be Greenland, starring Gerard Butler, as reviewed by Sara Gebka in The Huntley Voice at Huntley High School.
Fine arts programs adjust to the pandemic
Fine arts programming in schools throughout the state continues to transform itself in the pandemic, including at York Community High School in Elmhurst. For example, writes Mustafa Valika in This Is York, the visual and performing arts chair set up special drops for students to pick up materials they may need. But it doesn’t work in every case. “For my other two art classes, acrylic and jewelry, it’s a little more complicated because there are classes that need certain materials that not everyone has at home,” one senior student was quoted as saying. “Especially with jewelry because, well, I currently don’t have a torch in my house.”
Fall plays have been adapted in a variety of ways, including setting up a drive-thru performance at Libertyville High School (reporting by Elise Stouffer in Drops of Ink) and using the football field with audience members forming circles around the performers while maintaining social distancing at Elk Grove High School in Elk Grove Village (reporting by Gavin Ewen and Darina Lubenov in The Guardian).
Most schools in the state are not putting a marching band show on the field this fall, due in part to the fact that schools aren’t playing any football games this fall. However, at Providence Catholic High School in New Lenox, the band found a way to showcase their sound and maneuvering in a virtual setting. As part of the US Schools kickoff event on FloMarching.com, a subscription service, the band placed second out of nine bands in Division I, Charlie Celtic reports in The Proviscope.
Outdoors in Illinois as fall arrives
Illinois during the fall is just splendid, isn’t it? Even if marching bands are forced indoors and plays are forced outdoors, you can still go deer hunting, if that’s your inclination. The season opens on October 1, reports Ethan Holmes in The Tom Tom at Antioch Community High School.
Or maybe professional sports are more your style. If so, Major League Baseball starts the playoffs tomorrow, with the White Sox facing the Oakland Athletics at 2 PM. Aidan Murray in The Prospector Now student newspaper at Prospect High School in Mt Prospect predicts a White Sox victory in the series. While the regular season was cut short due to the pandemic, an additional round has been added to the playoffs.
A little less organized but a ton better for the cardio is running through mazes that have been set up in corn fields. Purported to be the world’s largest corn maze, the 28-acre field of corn at Richardson’s Adventure Farm in Spring Grove is “A-MAZE-ing,” writes Allie Rial in Lakes Student Media at Lakes Community High School in Lake Villa. “Inside the maze, there are different activities you can do based on the ages of your party and how much you want to challenge yourself,” she writes with A-MAZE-ment. “There are games for younger kids such as ‘Finger Sillies,’ ‘Farm Scene Investigation’ (similar to Clue), and ‘Farm Tracks.’ For older guests, ‘Quiz Questions’ and ’24 Hidden Checkpoints’ are more difficult and take longer.”
The adventure farm closes a few weeks after Halloween, which made us wonder, What will Halloween be like this year? Covid doesn’t have to end Halloween, reports Sarah Tanny in The Pacer student newspaper at Rolling Meadows High School. Indeed, Halloween offers the Covid-19 crowd a few extras. “Parties are not safe, but stuffing your face with candy, going to drive-in scary movies, and yard decorations are absolutely acceptable,” she writes. As are costumes, “particularly if masks are involved.”
And if you’re worried about social distancing during the trick-or-treating experience, Ava Cipriani at Oak Lawn Community High School recommends “Ghosting” in her article for The Spartanite. “Ghosting is a new festive way to spread the Halloween spirit while still social distancing! You fill up a small bag of candy and leave it at your friend’s or neighbor’s house, instructing them to do the same for someone else. You can even do this with a small group of friends as well!” Friends and candy. What a treat in the year of the pandemic!
Concern for the climate and the West Coast wildfires
But in the land where orange is the color of the sky and black is the color of burnt ruins, Halloween may not be so festive this year. Although wildfires don’t directly affect Illinois residents, students in the state are still feeling the pain of their neighbors to the west, much of which is due to climate change and the increased heat it brings to the West. “We should be focusing on how to limit greenhouse gas emissions and create accountability globally,” a senior at Hinsdale Central High School was quoted as saying by Zoya Anjarwala, Sophie Burns, and Olivia Ostrowski in their article in The Devil’s Advocate. “We want to encourage students to make environmentally safe decisions,” the Ecology Club president said.
Standardized testing gets some criticism
We have written much about standardized testing, including the national college admissions tests. This year, students find themselves with fewer options for taking the ACT or SAT, reports Garrison Sloan in The Spectator at Lake Forest Academy. But the pandemic has also caused colleges and universities to rely less on these test scores for admissions decisions. “Don’t worry too much. Testing will play less of a role this year, and a lot more schools have gone test optional,” he quoted Andrew Poska, the head of the school’s admissions office, as saying. “What’s more important is getting a good start in classes and writing a good essay, and know that you will get good support from teachers and counselors.”
But simply applying to college can fall outside the time management skills of some students this year, given an increased procrastination tendency. “The most difficult part has been having to balance time between homework, testing, and college applications,” one senior at Hoffman Estates High School was quoted as saying by Abby Frank in The Hawkeye View. “Everything was cancelled the past few months, which has now piled up.”
And when it comes to getting college credit for Advanced Placement courses in high school, remote learning, not procrastination, is the primary source of consternation. “Teaching the material is already hard and requires so much patience. Having an entire course being all online is rough. You are essentially teaching yourself the material,” opines Kristina Sanantonio at Joliet Central High School in The JTC Journal. “Yes, we have Google, but a search engine is no substitute for an actual instructor. Especially with AP courses, students depend heavily on additional help outside of their instructor. With Covid-19, many of these additional resources have been taken away.”
Working to eliminate period poverty around the world
A worldwide effort to end “period poverty” has a force in one west suburban high school, reports Gabriella Rauf in The Lion Online at Lyons Township, thanks to a senior at the school who connected with the Cycle Forward organization. The Highland Park-based nonprofit helps girls and women who can’t afford tampons or pads get them. “Someone like me or my friends would never second guess whether we have products available when we get our periods, and I have never had to worry about having enough money to buy more when I run out,” the paper quoted Sophia Schultz, a senior at the school, as saying. “So to think about how many people there are that can’t just go out to the store and buy tampons or pads because they cost too much is just horrible and definitely a privilege check.”
The student behind the yearbook art
Finally, we suspect yearbooks for high schools everywhere will look a little different this year than in recent memory. At Meridian Senior High School in Macon, Haley Grimes has been charged with the challenge of giving her school’s yearbook personality, reports Robert Le Cates in The Meridian Daily. Yearbook staff will be brainstorming ideas for hand-drawn graphics and doodles that give the yearbook an “edgy, sarcastic tone,” but Ms Grimes will be the one to draw those doodles. “This is very different from any other art project I’ve done,” she told the paper. “There’s more pressure because this isn’t an art project for a grade but rather something that will get judged at a professional level.”