The challenges and limitations set by the Covid-19 pandemic and the continuing need for social distancing are requiring St. Louis U. High to make adjustments as the school transitions to summer activities and welcoming the Class of 2024.
Direction Days, the flagship freshman orientation program typically held in early June as a two-day event, was the first event to see change. This year, in hopes of having the event in person, Direction Days is becoming Direction Day—a one-day orientation on Aug. 17, just two days before the start of the new school year.
According to freshman class moderator Tim Curdt, the orientations for the sophomore, junior, and senior classes will be staggered on that day as in years past, but may still be subject to change based on what the SLUH administration and City health officials deem is safe.
“We will need to be more flexible and adaptive as we expand our capacity to welcome the Class of 2024 in this new environment,” said Curdt.
With the loss of a June orientation program, the incoming freshmen will not have an opportunity to assemble before the first day of summer school, so Curdt hopes to build class identity through fun activities during a Welcome Week, which will allow classmates to more easily adjust into SLUH summer classes.
“We are planning for a few fun virtual Welcome Week events during the first week of June,” Curdt said. “Mr. (Stephen) Deves and Mr. (Adam) Cruz are taking the lead on that committee's work so it should be really exciting and creative.”
In contrast to years past, summer Health and Computer Fundamentals classes for the Class of 2024 will be converted into an online format. Unlike the fourth quarter classes, these classes will be conducted synchronously, which means students will have to check into a Zoom call daily and will have live interactions with teachers and classmates. This gives the incoming freshmen opportunities to get to know each other and work on cooperation skills before being thrown into a hectic environment come August. As in the past, summer school students will be held to strict attendance expectations.
“Students expecting to earn semester credit for these classes must be available during the scheduled class times online for daily interaction with their teachers and fellow students,” said Curdt.
Other typical Summer@SLUH activities were unable to be converted into an online format. Sports camps, physical education classes, and Upward Bound—a program designed to allow middle school students experience the academic rigour of a high school environment—were all canceled.
“When SLUH decided that even the second part of SLUH’s summer courses were going to be online, we didn't feel like we could offer anything approaching an Upward Bound experience” in an online format, said Upward Bound 8 principal Steve Missey.
Although not designed explicitly as an admissions tool, much of Summer@SLUH gives prospective students an opportunity to familiarize themselves with SLUH. Even so, Director of Admissions Ann Murphy does not believe that the change in programming will have any great impact on admissions.
“I’m confident that this will not have much of an effect on our applications and enrollments in the future,” said Murphy. “There are so many more opportunities for prospective students to experience SLUH such as Shadow@SLUH, SLUH Night, and Open House. If the student is only in 6th or 7th grade, he definitely has more time to explore SLUH and make a good decision.”
In the coming months, there will likely be few opportunities for prospective students to get a feel for SLUH on campus, so the Admissions Department is increasing its already large bank of online resources.
“For example, our Virtual Inside SLUH Visit is a slideshow that mimics the same visit we do on campus and I walk families through the building and through life as a Jr. Billiken,” said Murphy.
So far, the economic impacts of COVID-19 on prospective families are still largely unclear, but as needs arise, Murphy is confident that SLUH will be ready to offer a helping hand.
“Things are changing so fast throughout this pandemic with new information every day, so it is really hard to make any predictions about families’ situations,” said Murphy. “We’ve received a few financial aid requests and will continue to be responsive to the needs of our community situations (as they) present themselves.”
As the effects of COVID-19 on SLUH community and education in general become clearer, students and families can be assured that the faculty and staff that bring the school alive will strive to preserve a sense of normalcy—to preserve the tradition that is so heavily celebrated—the tradition that is said to never graduate.
“Everyone at SLUH from the administration on down is working as hard as we can to think of creative and impactful solutions that allow us to preserve the best of what SLUH has to offer students and parents even in this less than optimal context,” said Curdt.