Classroom Conversations on the Coronavirus

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Over the past weeks, the coronavirus has seemingly taken over the world. But COVID-19’s virulence doesn’t stop at its infectious nature. As both a topic of conversation and a point of speculation, the coronavirus has captured the public’s attention. At a school building with roughly 4,000 students and faculty, many are wondering what the teaching staff and administration are doing to alleviate concerns and inform the student body about the disease.

Currently, there are no official guidelines in place for how teachers should approach discussing the virus. It is up to the teacher to decide how to address corona, if at all, with their students. However, many students would feel calmer if their questions and anxieties could be addressed in class. Will school close? Will class be conducted, if at all?

Some teachers have shared personal anecdotes and fears and have encouraged students to do the same. Others have changed their testing policies so that sick students will be more likely to stay home from school. In the chemistry department, teachers have been expediting the labs so that students can fulfill the lab time requirement in the event that school closes early.

But a happy medium still needs to be reached between non-stop teacher-student dialogue about the virus and a complete absence of conversation on the topic at all. It should not be every teacher’s responsibility to initiate discussion on the coronavirus, but this begs the question of whose responsibility it falls into the hands of.

The most obvious choice for the set of teachers to lead this conversation regarding the disease is Stuyvesant’s health teachers. As we are currently in the midst of a global health pandemic, there is no doubt that health teachers should be thoroughly covering the topic, educating students on how to prevent contracting the disease and providing information on its spread, severity, and symptoms. However, it is not completely apparent where to take the discussion outside of health class.

One possible home for the coronavirus conversation is an unlikely candidate: the English classroom. Stuyvesant English classes are different from most other classes for a variety of reasons that make it the perfect place to carry out a comfortable and welcoming dialogue. The curriculum of a typical English class is subject to more variability than that of a math or science one. This unique flexibility provides the perfect opportunity to facilitate a conversation that doesn’t feel rushed or forced. In addition, most English classes focus heavily on self-expression and individuality, an emphasis which makes them an inherently comfortable place to share thoughts and feelings with a group of supportive peers.

While the administration has already actively informed the Stuyvesant community about the virus through regular email updates, it should also consider holding a town hall, as it did when it redubbed AP Physics 1 “Advanced Physics with AP 1 Topics.” There will no doubt be reluctance to do so from the administration; the consistent line from the city government has been that there are no plans to shut down schools collectively and no plans to shut down any school for more than 24 hours for sanitation. But that reluctance should be outweighed by a recognition that students are widely uncertain at best and fearful at worst.

With a topic as captivating, distressing, and critical as the coronavirus flooding the hallways, it is imperative that we have dialogues both in and out of school regarding any questions or concerns about the disease. However, there is currently no real standard set on how to talk about the subject in the classroom setting, leading to general confusion about the means by which such a conversation might occur. As the coronavirus becomes an even more pressing issue, students should be able to voice their concerns to a teacher, and be aware of where such conversation is welcome and where it is not. We recommend that in the future, English and health classes become the main hub for coronavirus-related discussion, as well as some town hall setting where students can field questions to a professional or administrator. With the coronavirus rapidly progressing, both globally and in New York City, we need a supportive environment in our school community where students and teachers alike can alleviate concerns and grievances surrounding the topic in a productive and honest way.