The world of college admissions has not been exempt from the chaos of the past six weeks. This year’s admissions season is shaping up to be like no other as colleges and universities scramble to create experiences that feel as normal as possible in an otherwise chaotic time.
Zoom has become a household name over the last month, and digital learning has switched from being a futuristic possibility to becoming the only choice educators have to continue teaching their students. For some St. Louis U. High teachers, this radical shift in teaching style has dismantled many pre-planned lessons; it has forced educators to find new ways to teach interactive disciplines, like dance, lab science, and conversational language, through a screen.
The switch to online learning has radically changed dance teacher Simonie Anzalone’s classes. The new format meant that Anzalone could no longer teach many of the fundamentals of group dance like spacing, timing, and formation. Anzalone was forced to redesign the course in a matter of weeks. While she is disappointed that her students don’t have the opportunity to perform in the annual concert or work together as a group in the studio, Anzalone believes that she has been able to find new ways to teach dance that have gone beyond the physical movements.
“In order to make the content meaningful, we've been doing a riff on a college level Dance 101 class, learning about the Elements of Dance and working on the steps to creating and choreographing a solo piece,” said Anzalone.
At the beginning of the quarter, Anzalone tried to choreograph a concert routine with her own instructional videos, providing feedback through the app Flipgrid. With the semester officially set to be completed online, however, Anzalone had to change course again, integrating more “dance appreciation” lessons into her workload and instituting a solo choreography project.
“It is definitely much easier for the students to respond to a dance appreciation lesson versus trying to convert spaces in or outside their homes into a mini dance studio,” said Anzalone. “And it is much easier to give corrections in person.”
Anzalone still wants to ensure that her students can be creative and that they have the opportunity to show off the skills they learned in the studio during the third quarter. She has designed the solo choreography project so that the work is manageable for students to do from home but still challenges them to try something unique under the current restraints.
“The upcoming solo choreography piece is the project I am most looking forward to,” said Anzalone.
Even though AP physics teacher Paul Baudendistel is not teaching ballet through a screen, he has been tip-toeing a fine line himself as he’s trying to maintain the energy of his lab-intensive class online.
Like most other teachers, Baudendistel has made himself available during the week to answer student questions live on Zoom, which he thinks has helped students, but he notes that teaching such a rigorous science class by way of video just does not have the same effect as it does in person. He still has his students engage video labs and take quizzes, but the hands-on component has been lost.
“Watching someone manipulate an apparatus and take data is not nearly as impactful as doing it oneself,” said Baudendistel. “But I think seeing the equipment and how it's used has some value, and they can still analyze the data that I acquire, so we're doing what we can. I've brought home a bunch of equipment, but my students are still going to miss out on some sweet demonstrations.”
Baudendistel says that while he was interested to take on synchronous learning, or learning done live by video conference, he thinks that SLUH’s asynchronous approach, through Canvas, has worked well for more people in the community.
Baudendistel hasn’t gathered enough evidence to conclude whether or not his students are reacting positively, but he has a hunch that his students are doing well. Junior Carson Cornett backed up Baudendistel’s theory. Even though Cornett notes that he was worried at first, he says that Baudendistel has gone above and beyond to make sure that his students don’t get lost, including going live on Zoom almost daily to answer questions.
“I thought online schooling was going to completely ruin AP Physics since we can’t do the labs at home, but Mr. Baud still manages to make the class feel hands-on,” said Cornett. “He records the labs and puts them on YouTube for us to watch and gives us ‘physics party tricks’ related to the topic that we can do at home. He’s kept the sense of community alive.”
A sense of community is what Spanish teacher Magdalena Alvarado is longing for with her students. Because so much of conversational language is learned through in-class practice—especially at the AP level, where the entire class is spoken in the target language—losing class time has been tough for Alvarado and the other language teachers.
Alvarado has adjusted. She hosts video conferences for both her AP students and her freshman students, and she believes that those conferences have been the most valuable language learning tools throughout the digital learning era.
“To speak you really have to be in class, you need to be interacting with other people,” said Alvarado. “It’s really hard to create conversation online, but I’m glad that my students can talk to each other; it’s a good way to connect. I think (student videoconferencing) for me more than any activity is what has been meaningful for me.”
Alvarado has been happy with the work SLUH has done to accommodate teachers, but she notes that she has struggled to adapt to the digital format. She misses her students and wishes that she could give them the Spanish education that she believes they deserve.
“I feel for (the students), this was a lot of work on (all the students),” said Alvarado. “So many of my students have made big progress on their speaking, and all of a sudden, it’s gone. It’s not completely lost, but it just … makes me so angry.”
So what does the digital learning experiment mean for the future? Teachers have different reactions to the idea, but Alvarado is very confident in her opinion.
“Never again,” said Alvarado. “If we start the fall with distance learning, I don’t know what I’m going to do.”
Baudendistel had a more positive spin on the idea.
“Silver lining: I don’t anticipate any more snow days in my teaching career,” said Baudendistel. “If we can’t come to school, we can learn virtually every day.”
Anzalone, however, simply summed up the reason why classroom teaching is valuable and sorely missed by the community right now.
“I just love and miss seeing my students dearly,” said Anzalone.
When the St. Louis U. High Administration announced that classes would be online for the foreseeable future, Campus Ministry immediately recognized the challenge of continuing their essential mission in an online format. Over the past few weeks, Campus Ministry has been working hard to cater to students' spiritual needs during quarantine.
The current junior and senior classes elected rising seniors John Browdy as Student Body President and James Brunts as Student Body Vice President this past Wednesday.
St. Louis U. High’s 51st Cashbah was unlike any of the previous 50. With COVID-19 threatening the St. Louis area, SLUH put its usual dinner party and live auction plans on the bench for the year and instead hosted a virtual event that ran on April 3 and 4. According to Director of Advancement Sean Agniel, ’96, a precise total for what the event raised will not be finalized for some time, but he is confident the virtual format met its goal: to raise over $1,000,000.