Student Activities amid Covid-19

October 4, 2020

Since the beginning of Covid-19, plans have been canceled, events rescheduled, and for the time being, DGN has been very quiet. However, behind the scenes, student activities have taken on a whole new form through remote learning. 

Coordinating events, scheduling clubs, and even graduating the class of 2020 have been only a few challenges that Student Activities Director Mark Mirandola has faced since in-person learning was halted last spring.

With the new school year in full effect, Mirandola is brainstorming new ways for the students involved and excited to be at DGN, even if they’re not at DGN. 

“I’m trying to reimagine everything that we are doing, and how we can do it so that it works if students are going to be on campus or if students are going to be at home” Mirandola said.

Although it’s more of a challenge to coordinate activities when no students can learn on campus, Mirandola is confident that he can remain successful after last spring’s remote graduation.

2020’s Remote Graduation

GRADS & GOOD BOYS: Accompanied by her furry friend, Isabelle Iannantone poses with her diploma. (Photo by: Isabelle Iannantonne)

Unfortunately, due to strict guidelines by the state, the Dupage County health department wrote a letter to superintendents recommending that there be no in-person graduation ceremony with over 50 people in attendance.

2020 graduate Isabelle Iannantone recounts her initial reaction when she heard the news of any in-person graduation being canceled.

“All four years of high school I was looking forward to our big graduation that I had seen my sister have when I was in sixth grade. Hearing the news about [graduation] was not much of a surprise to me, however, I was still pretty bummed out,” Iannantone said.

Mirandola, as well as Principal Janice Schwarze, were still adamant about celebrating the successes of the senior class in a meaningful way. They agreed to hold an on-campus event where students could walk across the stage and receive their diplomas in a socially-distant fashion, as well as hold a remote ceremony to recognize the class.

“At the end of the day, we were really able to evaluate what was the most important and that was to personalize it as much as possible for students so that they felt like they were part of that event,” Mirandola said.

Iannantone was able to capitalize on personalizing her graduation experience and making it one-of-a-kind. Not only was she able to walk across the stage and receive her diploma in-person, but she also brought her four-legged friend along for the ride. 

“When I got the email about the instructions for the parking lot graduation there were not very many restrictions besides the ones about social distancing and what time to show up,” Iannantone said. “Everyone in my family knows how much I love animals, especially my dog so they all encouraged me to bring him along knowing that it would make the day 100 times better.”

Mirandola stands by the idea that the ceremony was a huge success. Because they postponed graduation from the original date, he was able to review what other schools had done and pick and choose how he wanted to plan it. 

“We had the best of the best of what schools offered. I will tell you that our virtual graduation ceremony was the best. I would say our on-campus event was one of the best as well. We made it the most meaningful to students rather than just crossing it off the to-do list,” Mirandola said. 

Although the circumstances were challenging, Iannantone appreciated the effort given by administrators to make graduation special. 

“Overall, my family did not really know what to expect going to the parking lot graduation but we were all very impressed with what North had organized. I had a great time carrying my dog around and taking pictures with him, it brought a smile to everyone’s faces to see him and it’s one of my favorite memories that I have with him,” Iannantone said. 

Challenges for the Return of School

Still trying to make lemonade out of life’s sourest lemons, Mirandola continues to work through the challenges brought on with the return of school. 

With the restrictions handed down by the DuPage County Health Department, every time a student comes to participate in an activity, his or her temperature needs to be taken as well as a check for recent symptoms. Clubs have been unable to meet in-person and have resorted to organizing club activities through Zoom calls.

Preparing for the upcoming election, Empowerment Club leader Gwen Casten has had to jump through hurdles in order to deliver voting packages to eligible seniors turning 18. 

“We asked Mr. Mirandola if we could set up some socially distanced tables on the field at North and have 30 people from the club come and assemble them. We had a sign-up sheet so that we were within the parameters for how many people could meet and were going to make sure everyone had masks on the whole time,” Casten said. 

Due to liability issues, the club was unable to meet both on campus and off, but was still able to individually deliver the packages. While Casten acknowledges that the situation is not ideal, she is happy that Empowerment Club has been growing through this period of uncertainty. 

“While we are sad that we can’t all be together, we are very excited that our club is continuing to grow in the virtual setting,” Casten said.

Snoopy Production Navigating Limitations

SHOWTIME: The cast of Snoopy practices their choreography during a dress rehearsal. (Photo by: Olivia Shirk)

The fall production Snoopy has had to deal with the pandemic restriction in a dramatic fashion. Auditorium Manager Ariel Mozes stresses the impact the health guidelines have had on producing a play. 

“It’s hard to perform when you can’t see half of someone’s face. A smile goes so far and not being able to see that, it makes emoting that much harder. There’s so much separation between the actor and the audience. Luckily, everyone’s overcompensating, using their bodies and hands more,” Mozes said. 

With shows beginning, even more restrictions will be in place, as only 50 people can attend the show including the cast and crew. 

“It was important to us to still be able to keep an audience because there is an energy that comes with performing to an audience and I think that is really important at all levels, but especially at the high school level as kids are developing their acting skills,” Snoopy Director Kim Maslo said.

Despite the hoops they’ve had to jump through, both Maslo and Mozes are proud of the resilience the actors and actresses have shown.

“These kids, by the time we get to our final show, they should really feel like they’ve accomplished something remarkable,” Maslo said.

Focus on Freshmen

Another key obstacle for Mirandola and Student Activities is integrating freshmen into a new school without them actually being in the building.

“I haven’t gotten involved in any school activities yet because I feel like they wouldn’t be as fun doing them on the computer over zoom. If we go back to school and can do school activities in person, I would,” Freshmen Ella Dominow said. 

Even from the beginning with freshmen orientation, the incoming class has felt more disconnected from the school because of virtual learning.

“I don’t feel like I am a part of the student body yet. I feel like I will be once it’s like the second semester, hopefully,” freshman Jack Stanton said.

Unfortunately, helping freshmen to get involved in school is proving to be a challenge for the North Stars due to their low attendance rate. 

“Many North Stars have talked to them about joining clubs that they might want to get involved in. We pushed out information about the virtual activities fair. We also tried to have another meeting a week into school to see how it was going but we didn’t have anyone attend in my group,” senior North Star leader Grace McTigue said. 

 Mirandola believes that entering a new school can be overwhelming by itself, let alone joining all the clubs and activities that they have to choose from.

“There is a delicate balancing act that we are going through with making students feel welcome and connected and not overwhelm them with information,” Mirandola said. “Also, allowing them to become comfortable with their new classes and online learning.”

That being said, when in-school learning does resume, a whole new set of challenges will be thrown at the class of 2024.

“It has been a little difficult because I haven’t gotten to meet most of my classmates or my teachers in person. I also don’t know where any of my classes will be if we get to go back to school,” Dominow said.

The Future of Student Activities

With all the hurdles the Student Activities department has jumped through during the pandemic, they still remain optimistic for the coming year.

“I think that people need to give things a chance and allow things to be re-imagined. I do believe that oftentimes we want to say that something is a ‘tradition’ and we think that things that we roll out year after year are traditions because that’s what’s easy to do,” Mirandola said. 

Not having in-person learning has made certain events such as Homecoming and the Activities Fair look different, but there have been some positives to that.

“[In regards to the virtual activities fair] students that are a part of these clubs have taken a lot of ownership, they’ve created some really great videos, so I fully expect us from here on out we will expect to see a lot more videos,” Mirandola said.

In the eyes of Mirandola, student involvement cannot be enjoyable without excited students. The fate of activities in the 2020-2021 school year rests in the hands of the entire student body.

“We need to get kids excited again, find ways to connect them, and hopefully get them back in the building soon so start doing some fun stuff,” Mirandola said.

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