by Emma Zhang, Features Editor
photos contributed by Renee Gilman, Abby Shin, Taban Malihi and Peter Vashevko
The remote learning model was comforting to new student Renee Gilman, who recently moved to South from Brookline; she said it alleviated the hard-hitting anxiety that usually accompanies an entirely new environment.
“I was relieved to start the year online because I’m from a different town, and I don’t know many people,” she said. “The thought of going to school all in-person was scary.”
Gilman said that the pandemic has exacerbated some of the social challenges that come with moving.
“[Switching schools] was hard because in high school, everyone has their own established friend groups. I’m quite shy, so it’s hard to reach out to people,” she said.
Upon switching from remote learning to the hybrid learning model in January, she said that she was excited to form new friendships.
“I really enjoy going to school because I enjoy seeing faces,” she said. “I’m sick of the screens because it’s what we’ve been doing all year.”
She said that intially, she wasn’t aware about many of the extracurricular activities at South, but eventually, she got involved in clubs such as the chess team.
“I didn’t know much about sports, but I ended up joining the chess team,” she said.
Gilman said that she is not only grateful to have eased into the social aspect of school, but is also relieved about the smooth transition in regards to academics.
“There wasn’t as much work and things were a little more [flexible],” she said. “The hardest part of the transition was socially since this is a totally new town.”
Abby Shin recently switched from the remote learning plan to the in- person model, a decision she is glad she made. She said that though the teachers did their best with the circumstances they were dealt, in-person learning has allowed her to focus more in classes.
“Online school was pretty good because teachers were all trying their best,” she said. “It was definitely worse than in-person learning though, because I felt distracted.”
She initially chose to stay remote due to safety concerns, but after seeing the circumstances at school, she is no longer as apprehensive about the precautions put in place.
“Although a few people don’t follow [the procedures], I still think that Newton South is doing a good job with enforcing them,” she said.
Since Shin was online for most of the year, she said she hasn’t had many opportunities to connect to classmates, especially those who went to a different middle school. Clubs, like the debate team, are where she said she has felt the most involved.
“Debate is one of the only things keeping me intertwined in a social circle,” she said. “When it comes to the school as a whole, I’m not as connected as I probably should be because I went hybrid so late.”
Shin said that she is excited to get to know more people and is hopeful for the future social environment at South.
“We are able to communicate much more [in in-person school], and socializing will only get better from here,” she said.
Taban Malihi chose to learn remotely until the end of May, much later than many of her friends.
“I switched because of my friends, since most of them were in-person. It wasn’t a huge pressure for me, but I felt like I wanted to see them on a more regular basis,” she said. “My teachers didn’t do a very good job of including virtual students all the time.”
Since vaccine distribution for teens was uncertain at the time, Malihi said that she wasn’t comfortable going in-person any earlier.
“There were little waves coming here and there, and I wasn’t vaccinated,” she said. “It was unclear when vaccines would be available to our age group, so I figured I’d ride it out.”
When the pandemic halted many activities, Malihi said that she used the surplus amount of time to discover new passions outside of her singing hobbies. She had more time to devote to activities such as Speech and Debate and tennis.
“I’m very involved in music, but we weren’t able to do any performances this year,” she said. “I wish I could have gotten involved in that, but I actually appreciate it because it steered me in a completely different direction.”
Beyond freshman year, Malihi said that she is excited to continue to go outside her comfort zone.
“I enjoyed discovering new things rather than following the same rhythm and being encumbered by previous
commitments,” she said. “I’m excited to see where that leads me next year when things return back to normal.”
Peter Vashevko, who has been in-person since January, said that they are glad to be back in school five days
a week, as the remote learning model that took place at the beginning of the year was not engaging for them.
“Online school was really difficult for me … it was hard to stay in touch and to focus. There were a lot of distractions, and it was not motivating for me,” they said. “It was hard to not be able to see people, which, for me, is a big part of school.”
They said that although they don’t feel as much of a bond with the whole grade, clubs such as Mock Trial and South Stage have allowed them to feel like part of the South community because of the people they met.
“The most connection I feel is to the clubs and activities that I’m a part of at South, which are a big part of the school,” they said.
Due to the larger grade size and class dynamic in high school, a considerable transition from middle school, they said they are less familiar with their classmates.
“The classes feel less connected because teachers used to be in contact with each other, and you had a group of people that you’d always have classes with,” they said.
Vashevko said that their freshman year has allowed them to utilize clubs and activities to explore what they are passionate about, and advises incoming high school students to do the same.
“It’s really important for people to stay open and really explore what they’re interested in,” they said. “There are so many different clubs at South and there’s no expectation that you will immediately know what you want to do your freshman year.”