In-person experiences offer social and academic benefits


Students participate in a titration lab. Photo courtesy of Tina Lulla

Louise Bond and Tarek Anthony

After 11 months of ETHS being largely unoccupied by students, the school administration announced that it will be offering opportunities for in-person experiences for athletics, clubs and activities, fine arts, course-specific experiences and other activities inside the building called in-person experiences.

“The idea came about for in-person experiences, which still maintains the continuity of the instruction within the remote setting but still allow[s] students and staff who want to come in to do an event or an experience the opportunity to do so,” Associate Principal for School Operations & Logistics Robbie Brown said.

These opportunities began on Feb. 16 when the administration deemed that the severity of COVID-19 numbers in Evanston had declined to safe enough levels for live opportunities to be viable.

“Transmission rates went down, cases per 100,000 went down, hospitalizations went down, active cases went down,” Superintendent Eric Witherspoon said. “So, we could see that the metrics were way more favorable, and that’s where we got the idea that we can start getting some people back in the building in a very controlled way.”

However, on March 11—after a month of in-person experiences—ETHS announced that Monday Fundays and course-specific opportunities will end March 22 “as ETHS prepared for the transition to hybrid instruction in April” as stated in an email announcement.

“We actually are ending all in-person experiences that run by the Student Activities and Community Service departments, because we won’t have the capacity anymore to support it, as we’re going to be focusing and shifting gears towards senior experiences,” Community Service Coordinator Diana Balitaan said. “All clubs could still host things if they wanted; it just won’t be those bigger general events.”

The Monday Funday activities have been an opportunity for students to have fun and engage with their peers as a break from the monotonous e-learning experience in their own homes.

“We created a welcoming atmosphere and experience that is both like relaxing and gives people an opportunity to connect with each other,” Balitaan said.

Monday Funday activities have included UNO games, making bookmarks for Liberation Library, Mario Kart tournaments, bean bag toss, movie time and more.

“We reached out to Student Council and Student Ambassadors to get student feedback to see what things students would be interested in,” Director of Activities and Student Success Center Nichole Boyd said. “What would make students get out of bed? What would make students come to the school?”

A popular opportunity among freshmen has been the chance to walk their schedules. Over 200 freshmen have signed up to walk their schedule alongside 250 student ambassadors that have volunteered to help the freshman navigate the building.

“I know that I’m not doing any more walk-your-schedule events after [March 22] because then students will actually be walking their schedule [in hybrid learning]… it becomes kind of moot after that.” New Student Transition Coordinator Alicia Hart said.

“I think it was awesome,” Hart said. “I feel very lucky to have had that chance to return in-person. There was a little anxiety about it, and so to have the chance to do that with a small number of students and kind of hit the bumps in the road and learn from it before everybody [is in the school]… was really really helpful and critical, and I think it will let the school as a whole [see] what works and doesn’t.

Sophomore Noah Reichlin was one of the Student Ambassadors to facilitate the freshman walk-your-schedule events.

“Being in the building again was rejuvenating. I felt like I was actually living a somewhat normal life again,” Reichlin said. “COVID guidelines and procedures were implemented and taken seriously by all students and staff.”

Course-specific opportunities have been another option for students to go into the building and see their peers in person if one is offered for a class in which they are enrolled. These experiences are optional and may not be graded. Senior Alan Wang attended a magnetism demonstration for Chem/Phys.

“It’s pretty difficult, I would think, for most people to understand concepts that you can’t actually see. So being able to see the things we have learned in class actually manifest physically and before our eyes was very helpful,” Wang said. “I think as a senior it is one last chance to get to see the school and teachers.”

Chemistry teacher Tina Lulla is one of many ETHS teachers who have planned a course-specific in-person experience. 25 AP Chemistry students went into school to complete a titration lab over a three-day period.

“It was really fun to see students have the opportunity to use the content we have been learning in class and apply it in the lab,” Lulla said. “The best part, however, was that the students had the opportunity to interact with each other, even while socially distanced, in a way that is a lot more authentic that we are online.”

Students participate in a titration lab. Photo courtesy of Tina Lulla

Stephen Dickman’s AP Physics class also had an opportunity to go into the building to do some concept review labs.

“[AP Physics] is a lab-based class,” Dickman said. “To deduce how the physical phenomena work out by measuring and seeing the outcome of the lab events, like a car rolling on a ramp. As it speeds up and measures how fast it speeds up, why does it speed up at that rate? And then when it hits the bottom, why does it bounce back at that rate? And how does that depend on the mass and all that?”

Fine Arts activities have been offering in-person experiences including opportunities for theater, ETHS Dance Company, Speech & Debate and music. YAMO is one group that will have some opportunities for in-person experiences.

“I think that YAMO cultivates such a positive atmosphere and sentiment of mutual support with everyone who is involved, so having in-person experience will undoubtedly help us preserve that,” senior Olive Cantor said. “Because we have been so isolated this year, and YAMO is such a social experience, it was important that we at least create a fun and enjoyable space for the cast since we cannot put on performances like we usually do.”

Senior Mika Parisien agrees that the opportunities for in-person rehearsals will greatly add to the YAMO experience this year.

“The rehearsal process is really one of the most beautiful parts of YAMO. It’s when bonds are created, time is spent in our beloved back classroom, laughter is shared while eating tech dinner, and so much more,” Parisien said. “It definitely looks different this year, but I think having in-person rehearsals will help highlight and salvage these aspects of the rehearsal process.”

The athletics department has also taken the opportunity to have in-person experiences for sports teams to get back into the facilities and practice as a team. Senior Ellie Gavelek is one of many students who have gone back into the building for athletics.

“During softball practices, it felt pretty safe. We were pretty spread out for most of it, and everyone wore their masks and stuff was sanitized super often,” Gavelek said. “It was a better social connection than I thought; it was really nice to see people that I hadn’t seen in a whole year.”

The Safe Center for Online Learning is another space that has allowed students into the building since its opening on Feb. 16. It provides a quiet space for any student who wishes to sign up to take their online classes around their peers instead of at home.

“We were considering students who may have had some type of extenuating circumstances within their household, or maybe just who wanted to be in the school because they haven’t been able to experience school in almost a year, to be able to come in the building and have space where they can have reliable internet, breakfast and a snack and lunch and have space where they can work in a quiet space remotely,” Director of Academic Supports Kiwana Brown said.

About 35 students, mostly freshmen, signed up for the first week and after that, sign-up numbers dramatically increased, many people choosing to sign up for additional weeks after their first.

“Sitting in the cafeteria completely silent was kind of awkward, but it felt really nice to be back inside of a school and just talking to people was amazing,” freshman Denise Bias said. “Seeing the reactions from my teachers when I had my camera on was probably the highlight of my day the first day I went.”

Many ETHS students have had the opportunity to come back to—or be introduced to—the building through these in-person experiences, and although many are coming to a close, hybrid instruction will hopefully provide an even greater opportunity to connect with peers and return to some level of normalcy.

“We’ve been away from one another for just about a year now,” Boyd said. “So really, [in-person activities] are just about getting reacquainted with the school, friends and peers, staff, and just trying to offer some connection beyond the screen, really just wanting people to feel like they belong.”