The Elect Emily 4 PA Youth Team has an exciting project: a campaign newsletter! The Youth Team is a group of incredible high school and college students who are dedicated to electing Emily to the Pennsylvania State House. During this stressful time of social distancing, we want to innovate new ways to bring you informative, fun, community-based content. We are excited for you to get to know us through this newsletter!

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Recently, our country’s schools have had to tackle reopening amidst a global pandemic; for a lot of us, it’s been chaos trying to choose what is worth the risk of infection anytime we go out, let alone if our children should go back to school. Politics aside, below are the perspectives of some high school students, college students, and friends of those stepping into a teaching role for the first time, each one telling of how this reopening uniquely affects us.

 

 

 

Aizah Kamal
High School Student

 

It’s that time again, after more than 11 years of going to school, this may be the first time I am beyond excited to go back. I will be a junior at Sewickley Academy, and I just want something to be a little normal. We are seeing a very unique time and we are told that we have to be flexible; especially when we face a new obstacle everyday.

I would officially start classes on September 3rd, but for the first 13 days they’ll be online so I can’t physically go back to school until September 16th. From September 3rd to September 16th, only first, sixth, and ninth graders will be allowed to go back physically. They’ve become kind of like guinea pigs in a trial to see if they can follow Covid-19 precautions. One of the most prudent concerns is interaction in hallways; especially when our school is so small, we’ve really never needed any more space.

I am currently playing soccer, and we have summer workouts where we go to the field to train, pass with each other, and occasionally scrimmage with masks on. It just prepares us for the season, but we don’t even know if we’ll have a season. Most college sports have been cancelled because they want the majority of students to attend online school, so it defeats the purpose of social distancing if the expectation is that students should play sports. Whereas, due to the significantly lower volume of students at Sewickley Academy, we are able to easily social distance on the field and in locker rooms. 

My primary concern as a student is that I won’t be able to make personal connections with teachers if we aren’t in person, and I want to create connections with my teachers in order to succeed in my high school career. I’m sure many of my fellow classmates feel the same way; normalcy may be too much to ask for, but I hope I have the ability to see my friends and teachers soon! 

 

 

 

Quinn Volpe
High School Student

 

When I read the plans that my school, North Allegheny, released, I was concerned for myself and my family because we all have asthma and other medical conditions. Less than half of my classes—including required ones—were offered through NA Cyber Academy. My mom, a teacher at my school, tried to find a way for me to the Cyber Academy while also tuning into in-person classes via video chat if they weren’t offered online, but there was no way to do this. I wanted to do it in-person from the start, but I can understand why my mom was concerned because my sister has been hospitalized for her asthma a few times throughout her life. 

I’m mostly worried for my mom and other teachers, because I have noticed that during my time in school, a lot of students seemingly don’t care about anyone outside of their bubble, especially teachers. Many kids also struggle to recognize that teachers and other students have lives of their own outside of our classrooms. And now, the stress of sickness and a deadly virus is added onto everyone’s pre-existing stresses. I just hope that in some way, everyone will be able to recognize this and treat their peers and the faculty of their school with compassion and respect.

 

 

 

Hunter Greenberg
College Student

 

I attend a college in the South that is remaining open despite the university shutdowns sweeping the nation. Given my school’s extensive planning and stringent policies to facilitate social distancing and public health services, I was skeptical, but also not entirely pessimistic of the situation. We have a hybrid system where those who are healthy can take classes in person, and students must wear facemasks and remain six feet apart from others at all times while on campus. Those who have been exposed to COVID-19, test positive, or simply do not feel safe attending class in person can do so online through Zoom and other virtual forums. The university also initiated a massive testing program, and if a student tests positive or is exposed to COVID-19, the school connects us with contact tracers and case workers. They’re doing everything they can to ensure students are supported and accommodated during these times. So, although I felt unsure of the decision to re-open school, I also did trust the processes my college was instating.

When I arrived, the state of affairs seemed to have metamorphosed from a controversial decision into a plot from a dystopian novel. There is so much contention here between those with decision-making power and those who teach and attend the school. The upperclassmen and the majority of faculty are united against the university executives and outspokenly condemning the school’s reopening. Students are creating vocal social media posts and petitions and the faculty even wrote a letter adamantly dissenting to the school’s reopening plan.  Conversely, many of the incoming freshmen are actively ignoring all social distance and mask wearing mandates, essentially signaling they don’t care about their peers or the beloved city we all live in.

I feel that the plan for school to remain open is not sustainable. Although I truly do believe my college has its best intentions at heart, it doesn’t seem logistically or socially feasible to maintain the current system.  The lives of too many people, not just within our campus circle, but within the city, are at risk.  There are so many people who care and are concerned about the health and safety of others, but at the same time it’s alarming to see how many don’t. As this is a collective action problem, we can only really confront the pandemic head on if each person takes individual responsibility for how their actions affect others. Though my school has expansive COVID-19 reduction and testing initiatives set up, it doesn’t mitigate the threat from individuals who choose to negate standard protocol. Moreover, even if one is following all guidelines, there is still a possibility for them to contract or transmit the virus to others.  This entire situation seems almost impossible to overcome in the span of one semester. I can confidently say that I have no idea how my school will be operating three weeks from now. Part of me hopes that it is able to stay open because we are successful in combating this virus. Yet, realistically, I don’t think that is the safest course of action.

 

 

 

Preparing for a Year of Uncertainties as a New Teacher
By Maria Graziano

 

As with any new job, young professionals do everything they can to be prepared and organized for the big first day. For young teachers especially, their first day will look a little different this school year. Young educators nationwide are in their first couple years of teaching, and coupled with the uncertainty of how schools will operate with COVID-19, have had to learn new ways to innovate on the fly. 

A good friend of mine, Alex, went to Allegheny College with me and graduated with a degree in biology. She then went on to the University of Pittsburgh for her Masters in Secondary Education in hopes of becoming a high school biology teacher. Having graduated in June and passing her Praxis exams months before, Alex was set to find a job in the Pittsburgh area. Unfortunately for her, and many other people in her program, Alex struggled to find a job at any Pittsburgh area high school. “One of the most frustrating things that I found was a lot of the positions were ‘anticipated’ openings. Because of the coronavirus, I think a lot of teachers were unsure if they were going to go back to teaching or not, so the positions were posted just in case they didn’t,” she said. It wasn’t until this past week that Alex was contacted by a local private school about an opening as a one-year long term substitute for honors bio, AP bio, and bioinformatics. In less than a week, Alex interviewed and was hired for the job. In fact, her first day teaching is tomorrow, Monday, August 24th, but Alex was not completely surprised by this: “With the interview being so close to the time school was starting, I was assuming it would be a shorter and quicker process.” 

Any new teacher anticipates challenges for the start of the school year, but Alex is facing obstacles she never would’ve imagined. “I’m struggling to figure out how to make my seating chart, something that is usually such an easy task, as there’s limited space in my room and the students need to be socially distanced.” Despite entering her first classroom amidst a pandemic, Alex is staying optimistic. “One thing that is comforting is that I’m not alone. If it were a regular year, it would feel like everyone around me knows exactly what [experienced teachers are] doing…this year every teacher is basically new, as we are new to this kind of teaching, being both virtual and in person.”

New teachers already face a set of challenges and unknowns as they place the final touches on their classrooms at the end of each summer. This year though, those challenges are compounded exponentially by the threat of COVID-19 and the list of new protocols and procedures they must add to their classrooms. Even with all the changes and uncertainty for how the school year will play out, like many other educators, Alex is confident “learning [will] always move forward.” As someone who isn’t a teacher, I honestly cannot imagine all of the new COVID-19 rules and regulations teachers now must follow. Whether it’s their first or 31st year of teaching, we should all remember to be kind to our teachers everywhere as they try and go with the flow of our new educational normal. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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