It would be an understatement to say that this year has had lasting effects on everyone’s lives. Characterized by uncertainty and isolation, starting this year online left many feeling disconnected. In a normal year, the first week of school is filled with excitement and nerves for the memories to come; instead, our first few weeks were spent adjusting to the new schedule and figuring out how to navigate the meeting IDs and passwords of Zoom.
In the midst of all this chaos, faculty and staff worked diligently this past summer and school year to ensure that things would run as smoothly as possible and help us return to school in-person.
Despite unimaginable challenges, the South community has continued to optimistically and courageously face the year head on. The faculty and staff were no exception. They exceeded all expectations and presented themselves as a strong, united front.
During virtual learning, students were physically alone, and the nation was in a time of political and social turbulence. Last summer and fall unveiled tensions from presidential elections and police brutality against Black Americans. Exacerbating the situation was the skyrocketing percentages of hate crimes against Asian-Americans.
Teachers made a continuous effort to foster difficult conversations on current events despite the challenges of connecting to students through the impersonal wall of a computer screen. Some provided resources to guide us through processing disturbing events, while others reserved moments of silence at the beginning of class to acknowledge hate in our country.
The knowledge that teachers cared and would take time to individually check-in on us was a reminder that in dark times, we were not alone. In addition to the support received from teachers, South formed the South Human Rights Council (SHRC) with the sole purpose to give students a place to reflect on and exchange perspectives.
On a smaller scale, the English department changed their curriculum to include novels and stories written by authors of color. Instead of the usual American classics such as the Great Gatsby and a series of Shakespeare’s plays, students were exposed to new authors and perspectives in novels like Gene Luen Yang’s “American Born Chinese,” Zora Neale Hurston’s “Their Eyes Were Watching God” and Sherman Alexie’s “The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian.”
The changes in the curriculum resonated with many and ultimately helped students gain new insights regarding different cultures that weren’t typically taught in school before this year. With the lack of positive representation in the media felt by many, students of color said that it has been nice to see the school overcoming racial boundaries in the curriculum. Regardless of identity, many hope that the school will continue to incorporate unheard voices into their agenda moving forward.
This year has also brought on technological difficulties, as teachers have had to transition from traditional teaching on whiteboards and paper to virtual teaching on a myriad of new programs. Regardless of their comfort levels with technology, we commend our teachers for having spent countless hours testing links and making sure students have a well-thought out class plan. Teachers have experimented with new academic platforms such as Classkick, EdPuzzle and Jamboard to name a few. Along with making readily available resources for students, they have managed to keep class engaging while academically worthwhile.
Some of the most visible figures during this difficult year have been the administration. They organized new transitions in uncertain times and handled school affairs. Not only did they plan the new schedules, but they also enforced numerous rules to maintain a safe environment at South. In such a hectic time, they managed to keep the school on the same page, sending out weekly updates regarding school events.
Among the many critical faculty members who made this year a possibility, Interim Principal Mark Aronson and Interim Vice Principal Christopher Hardiman have been the school’s rock. They guided South through possibly one of the most atypical years in history by making the transition from distance to hybrid models possible, all while overseeing various pivotal aspects of the school. Had it not been for their role as the bridge of communication between the school and the community, this year would not have gone as smoothly as it has without their efforts.
On top of administrative duties, Hardiman has been a dependable guidance counselor. He has made sure to prioritize students’ needs and has been a constant support for all students while showing how much he cares. Aronson has taken the time to meet with various affinity groups, showing his support during difficult times of national instability and hate.
This year has taught the community about resilience and the meaning of strength in unity. We have collectively grown to effectively support one another in times of need. Though we may not be together in person, our connection, ability to inspire and be inspired by others transcends physical distance.