COVID-19 Causes Stuyvesant Classes to Adjust

As students transition back to in-person learning at Stuyvesant, classes such as World Language, Music, and Physical Education have been disproportionately affected by newly implemented COVID-19 protocols.

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By Julia Lee

Classrooms are filling up with students, and hallways are returning to their pre-COVID bustling state—Stuyvesant has transitioned back to in-person learning. In-person schools now require the implementation of new rules and restrictions, which have affected some classes more than others.

Band is one such example. Before the pandemic, classes were more concerted and practices were done through the whole class. Now, to abide by social distancing guidelines, the band is often separated into smaller groups. “I try to build subgroups so that I have every instrumental voice covered, but with a smaller number of players,” music teacher Dr. Gregor Winkel said. “I have [little bands where] every [instrumental] part is covered, and then I have the next band playing. The other person plays first clarinet, for example, and another person plays second clarinet, instead of having them playing all at the same time.”

For band and choral classes, Stuyvesant ordered special personal protective equipment, including choral masks, instrument-tailored masks, and covers, all of which are currently being distributed to students, to follow more safety guidelines. “We have special covers that go over the bell and brass instruments,” Music Appreciation and Guitar Appreciation teacher Harold Stephan said. “We’re getting pads for spit valves on trombones, [and with choir,] we purchased a special mask that has a little more space so that the sound can develop inside the mask.”

Band masks specifically have special openings and filters so that students can stay masked while playing their instruments. “[The masks] have an opening because they need to have access to the mouthpiece. And then in addition to this, we have filters on the instruments,” Dr. Winkel said.

Choral masks, on the other hand, have a larger and bulkier shape to allow for more breathing and singing space. As a result, some had to adjust to the effects of the new mask. “I’ve just distributed the choral masks and we haven’t started using them heavily because they’re made of very thick material,” Choral Director Liliya Shamazov said. “When it was 90 degrees out, I couldn’t wear [the choral mask] because that warm air accumulated and it was very difficult to breathe. [The masks] also resonate, so a singer hears themselves more than they hear anything else, [making] the sound a little bit muffled as well.”

Additionally, language classes have been affected by COVID protocols, though the content of the curriculum stayed relatively the same. “You’re still going to be learning what you need to be able to [...] interpret what is being presented in the form of reading, writing, or communicating in the language,” Assistant Principal of World Language, Art, and Music Francesca McAuliffe said. “There should still be group work happening in classes, students collaborating and speaking in their target language, [and] pursuing the New York State Seal of Biliteracy.”

However, group work, used in language classes to practice diction, has been affected due to concerns surrounding safety protocols, as staying three feet apart is not always feasible when working together. “I [am] always [concerned] about the students’ safety [because] they have to get closer to the partner to listen to the partner, and with the mask on you have to speak louder or you just have to get closer [...] to your partner,” Mandarin teacher Shu Shi said. “I always have that concern [about COVID-19 safety] but I have to [use group work] because it’s language class. You [...] have [a] lot of pair work to do [...], you listen to other students practice, and you exchange information.”

Masks have also created communication issues within language classes. “It’s difficult [...], especially when I teach a first-year class, for the students to be able to see my mouth doing what it needs to at different sounds in the language,” McAuliffe said.

Not only do masks make it harder for students to understand their teachers, but covered mouths also make it more difficult for language teachers to know if students are pronouncing words correctly. “Sometimes, when I ask students to read aloud together, when I see students’ mouths, I know if they pronounce correctly. But now with the masks on, I cannot tell. I have to listen to them carefully,” Shi said.

Suggestions to ameliorate this issue include buying clear masks for teachers, though this might not be feasible. “We’ve looked into getting some of those clear masks, but I didn’t find one that had great reviews. Unfortunately, they fog up [and] tend to not be as hygienic […] condensation covers the whole thing and the point is [stifled], so, for now, we are going with the protective and trusted cloth and/or medical masks,” McAuliffe said.

Other teachers are obtaining voice amplifiers in an attempt to ease the muffled sounds of talking through a mask, helping students hear them clearer. “I [requested] the voice amplifier on DonorsChoose,” Shi said. “It’s very useful because I speak in [a] low voice but everybody [is able to] hear me.”

Nonetheless, students have expressed that language classes are much easier to learn in person, despite some of its drawbacks. “Being in a classroom where I can hear [the teachers] and [...] find the errors in my pronunciation [...] definitely [helps] and [...] made it feel easier to raise my hand,” sophomore Bishesh Shah said.

Physical Education (P.E.) classes have also changed significantly by new pandemic protocols, such as sanitation measures and outside walks along the piers. For the first month, students did not need to change into their P.E. clothes. “We don’t have a locker room now. Right now, for the time being, students work out in their regular clothes. All the equipment has to be sanitized, so every time a class uses something, I have to clean [and] sanitize it,” P.E. teacher Howard Barbin, who teaches boxing and requires boxing equipment, said. “We [also] had to make sure [the students] are socially distanced. The biggest adjustment is probably taking the students out as much as possible so they can take off their masks and get some fresh air.”

Despite these new regulations, many students expressed their appreciation for an in-person gym class. “[Gym] is actually the best part of doing school in-person,” sophomore Tomas Levani said. “I’ve been using the mask for such a long time that I don’t mind it anymore.”

Teachers are also content that students are able to return to in-person classes this year in light of the new adjustments. “I really think that our staff, especially the World Language, Art, and Music [teachers], are so excited to be back in front of the students again,” McAuliffe said. “There are, of course, challenges, and I think one of those is teaching five or six periods with this mask on the whole day, [but] our staff is doing the best that they can to provide support and to be really understanding and empathetic with the fact that this is hard for all of us.”

Similarly, many students seem to feel much more fulfilled to be back in school than they had felt during remote. “It’s very draining mentally sitting in a room by yourself, so [being] in person, seeing people, I think it’s much better,” sophomore Aleksey Olkovenko said. “It also gives you much more motivation; [...] even the walk to school empowers you a little bit.”

Overall, students and teachers alike are adapting to this new way of learning. “It’s not an ideal situation. [...] Of course, I’d rather have [normalcy] but it’s all about adapting. I guess making lemons out of lemonade,” Barbin said. “I’m looking for a day where this is all behind us and it can be the way it was, but that might not be possible for a few years.”