When the pandemic shut Washington schools down last March, Meredith Mittelstaedt, who was then a junior, remembers people saying school would probably be closed for a few weeks. At that point, no one imagined the challenges of the pandemic would go on for at least a year afterward.
Mittelstaedt said when she thinks back to the pandemic decades later this is probably the story she will tell her grandchildren.
Then seventh-grader Hayleigh Barnhill expressed a similar sentiment, saying she will remember being told school would be able to continue to meet in-person and then having everything shut down a day or two later.
Students have lived through this pandemic in a unique way, adjusting to online and hybrid instruction, as well as frequent changes in instruction based on the current COVID incidence and rules.
Waterville School students have been very fortunate compared with many in the country in that the school district got online learning mobilized immediately after schools were shut down in the spring and found ways to provide in-person learning to ever-increasing numbers of students in the 2020-21 school year.
Superintendent Tabatha Mires arranged a chance for me to talk with four Waterville students via Zoom about their experiences this past year. In addition to Barnhill and Mittelstaedt, siblings Jack Katovich, who is now a junior, and Elizabeth Katovich, who is now a senior, joined in the interview.
According to Elizabeth Katovich, it was tough going from being very active in school sports and in school, to not having very much on her schedule. Katovich said that boredom has definitely been an issue for her during the pandemic.
Beginning Feb. 1, the school was able to open a football season, and they recently opened a volleyball season.
Katovich said it has been really nice to get back into sports practice.
Mires said the drastically reduced athletic season was very difficult for a lot of students, parents and coaches. They have had to forego most of their sports involvement and there is no postseason activity. This is especially hard for seniors because they missed getting the opportunity to excel in their high school sport during their senior year.
When practices began again, students turned out wearing masks and social distancing, even though there was no guarantee that there would be any competitive play.
“It’s just a testament to our kids,” Mires said.
Barnhill said students have gotten used to precautions like masks and social distancing pretty well. Sometimes reminders are needed about social distancing because students are used to interacting at a closer distance, but they seem to be getting the hang of it and fewer reminders are needed as time goes on.
Katovich said that the online component of school lessons has actually been a very nice adaptation in that if students can’t come to school for any reason they have a way to do their school off-site and don’t need to try to make up what they missed when they get back.
“That’s actually really nice,” Katovich said.
Barnhill added now when there are snow days, school just goes online and those days don’t need to be made up at the end of the year.
Personally, Barnhill said the pandemic changes helped her to value school more. Before she sometimes didn’t want to go to school and she didn’t care as much about her grades. Now that school as she knew it was taken away for a while, she doesn’t take it for granted anymore. She pays more attention and works hard to get good grades.
Mires added the students have demonstrated amazing resilience. They have learned new technology skills, like how to use Zoom. They have become more responsible in keeping track of their assignments and taking initiative with their learning. Their flexibility has been tested.
Mittelstaedt agreed with this. She said she doesn’t think Zoom is going away and it has been good that students have had the chance to practice this online meeting format.
“It’s made everybody more independent,” Mittelstaedt said.
The students are all looking forward to post-pandemic life. Barnhill is looking forward to not having to wear masks, not having to stay six-feet apart from others and being able to travel. She is looking forward to more in-person school events.
Mittelstaedt is looking forward to being able to go out to eat at restaurants or attend sports events. She is also looking forward to having more variety of sports available.
According to Mires Waterville students in grades pre-kindergarten through eighth grade currently have the chance for in-person instruction four days a week. Most high school students have been in school two days per week up until now but will be going back four days a week beginning March 3.