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COVID-19 and College Admissions

COVID-19 and College Admissions

Along with other uncertainties, the coronavirus pandemic has left prospective college students anxious about what the future of their education will look like. While current high school seniors are now faced with the possibility of transitioning to a full-time online college education, the members of the junior class are reviewing updated standardized testing policies, attending virtual campus tours and webinars, communicating with counselors online, and hoping for the best. 

Social distancing policies have certainly complicated the college admissions process. High schoolers must work to craft their resumes, brainstorm essay responses, and finalize their college lists without having access to campus tours, standardized testing, or extracurriculars. Because SAT and ACT dates have either been cancelled or postponed, many colleges, including the UC schools and the Cal State system, are shifting to test-optional policies.

In a webinar presented on May 6th, the School’s college counselling team informed juniors about how they are tackling the college application process in response to the coronavirus. One of the major adjustments involves shifting to “deconstructed” college blasts. Typically, the School’s college blasts are in-person sessions that take place over summer to assist rising juniors with resume drafting, interview preparation, and more. However, they are now shifting to fully online modules. College counselor Kora Shin clarified in the webinar, “The Google Classroom modules are meant to point students where they should be and where they will be at various points in the next few months. Remember, this is still individualized.” 

Though the class of 2021 may be entering unknown territory when it comes to the newly revised admissions process, colleges emphasize that they are completely understanding of the situation. Jeremiah Quinlan, Dean of Undergraduate Admission and Financial Aid at Yale University, assured students that “a community’s response to the outbreak—and a student’s personal circumstance associated with it—will not negatively affect a student’s chances of admission.” 

Holistic reviewing processes are taking on a whole new meaning this year. Students who have gone through (or are currently going through) the college admissions process have heard the term “holistic review” being thrown around constantly, but what does it actually look like? Holistic review refers to a selection process in which a broad range of factors are considered, including extracurriculars and personal attributes, not just academics. This year, personal essays and student transcripts will be the major focus of a candidate’s application, since standardized testing is either postponed or cancelled. Though some high schools have shifted to a pass/fail system, college admissions counselors will still be able to gauge a student’s academic progress throughout their first three years of high school. Some colleges even say that it is very likely that their supplements will include a question relating to how a student spent their time in quarantine and how the pandemic affected them.

Along with the change in reviewing applications, some colleges and universities are also altering the way they accept AP and IB credit. The College Board published a statement addressing student concerns regarding AP credit and testing: “We’re confident that the vast majority of Higher Ed institutions will award credit as they have in the past. We’ve spoken with hundreds of institutions across the country who support our solution for this year’s AP exams.” 

Over 100 schools have confirmed that they will accept AP and IB credits from this year’s exams. While the more selective universities state that they will be accepting scores of 4 and 5 on AP exams and scores of 6 or 7 on IB exams, others state that they will also be willing to even accept a 3 on an AP or a 5 on the IB. 

Due to social distancing policies, the majority of the country’s colleges and universities have cancelled on-campus interviews. This also means that international students will be negatively impacted because of travel restrictions. However, some schools will be offering sign-ups for Skype interviews with local alumni and admissions officers this fall. 

Colleges and universities still depend on the tuition of the students they admit, and while that may mean capping the amount of gap years or regulating financial assistance, they are still relying on student attendance to supply revenue. Some schools plan on continuing in-person classes while regulating the amount of students allowed? on campus. Others have considered having alternating sessions in which only a small portion of the student body is allowed on campus per day. 

For rising seniors applying for fall 2021 admission, there are a multitude of ways to stay engaged and informed on the college process. Attend virtual information sessions and tours, begin brainstorming possible essay responses, and get creative with extracurricular activities. Visit college websites, sign up for college mailing lists, research scholarship opportunities, and don’t be afraid to reach out for help. Everyone is navigating this process together.

Drama 2’s “A Quarantine Mystery” Episode 2

An Inside Look Into the New Grading Directive

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This is an unprecedented time, as the world is reeling from this pandemic. Organizations and institutions everywhere are having to quickly change their policies, including our school. Distance learning was completely new territory for the administration and they had to pivot rapidly when we left the traditional classroom on March 13th. Many questions have been raised about these changes, particularly the question of how grading will work. Earlier this month, Ms. McKenna released the School’s new grading directive to the students, and I had the pleasure of speaking with her and Ms. Sarkar to get an inside look into how these decisions were made. 

The grading directive team consisted of the Division and Assistant Division Heads (Middle School and Upper School), Dean of Academic Community (Ms. Sarkar), and the Director of Diversity and Inclusion (Ms. Tucker), reporting to deans and departments for feedback. They also conducted lots of research from local peer schools, Challenge Success, IDEX data, DEI directors as well as gaining informal and unsolicited feedback from parents and students. 

As noted in the school-wide email, there are three guiding and framing principles of feedback, flexibility, and empathy. McKenna expanded on this, saying, “We are acutely aware of the unique situation we are in and we are trying to figure out a philosophy around grading that honors the work and the program that we are putting in place, the efforts that students are making to remain engaged, and also recognizes the difficulties of moving to distance learning for adults, students, and teachers.” This is a struggle shared by both the faculty and the students. Other complications that come with dislocation include stress, interruptions, distractions, other responsibilities, concern for loved ones, and the overall climate of uncertainty. “It is tough,” McKenna remarks, “We wish we were not in this situation. I know that students feel that way. I want to reassure them that we 100 percent sympathize and agree.”

Many different opinions have been expressed towards a new grading directive from students, teachers, and parents. McKenna acknowledges this and touches on the School’s approach to all the conflicting ideas, saying, “We are looking broadly at that tension, trying to find some sort of solution that allows for flexibility, that still gives students feedback, and that is empathetic at the core about how this is a struggle… It is not simple and there are many different and real perspectives that are based on everyone’s unique position. The process has been to try to leverage as much research as we can into a very short time frame.” Ms. Sarkar added to this, saying, “I want to say that we are a unique school. Different from say College Prep or Bishop O’ Dowd; we are a K-12 school. We have students and family that are experiencing our program at all three divisions. There are so many pieces of information, and we are trying to make our philosophy and our experience for families consistent.”

Despite this concern, Sarkar adds that, “Independent schools have an advantage because we have college counseling offices that have deep relationships with the colleges.” Mckenna expands on this, saying, “I would like to extend that beyond the college counseling office to say that there are many things that we are lucky for and privileged about. We are a small community and we can act more nimbly and individuate in a way that big public schools cannot. We know our students and our students have a network of relationships through teachers, advisors, deans, etc. We have the ability to target and support people not just as a school but as individual students.” 

As we know, the administration has decided to pursue a blended option of traditional grades and a pass or fail system for students whose grades significantly drop. They also made the decision to treat the latest interims as a progress grade. Furthermore, McKenna confirmed that the School will not be holding traditional finals. Instead, they are looking for “different things in the fourth quarter given the circumstances. Smaller, more frequent, lower-stakes ways of showing engagement with the material and the skills that we are trying to maintain and foster. That looks different depending on the discipline” (Mckenna). 

Coincidently, the School has been critically looking at assessment for a while. Sarkar touches on this, saying, “This is in a strange way to our work in our strategic plan that is asking us to innovate around some of these things. Our teachers understood it at a theoretical level. We have been talking about it with the implementation of our strategic plan. That is another advantage.” McKenna adds, “We are at an important crossroads, not just as a school but as a country in what education looks like.” For example, many colleges around the U.S. are debating the importance of standardized testing and our school is moving away from APs. With this disruption, McKenna views it as an opportunity for innovation. “We can’t do it perfectly, that would be unrealistic, but we are doing it with as much intention and attempt to be not just reactive but strategic” (McKenna).

Another concern for high schoolers is what the fall semester will look like. With the reduced content due to remote learning, will there be some remedial catchup in the fall, especially for cumulative classes? Sarkar addresses this, saying, “Two things are at play. One, we recognize that the content we covered in this fourth quarter is not what we would have normally done, so we will pick up in August knowing where we ended. At some basic level, the curriculum will shift. But I am actually hoping for some reassessment of what is important to deliver in the curriculum. We will make sure our students are not at a disadvantage.” 

For any current juniors concerned about the college process, Kora Shin, the Associate Director of College Counseling, also gives some insight into how the college process will change, saying, “We’re confident the colleges will show great empathy and humanity to students with their process given everything going on globally. Schools have already started to change their testing policies for the grades most impacted by this in their college process (ie. Chapman, Univ of Oregon, Tufts, Scripps, Redlands, Boston University, to name a few) and will also demonstrate flexibility and understanding around the different grading shifts/changes that are happening at schools around the U.S. and the world.”

If you have questions about your grades or grading in general, McKenna encourages students to go directly and respectfully to the teacher, and if that doesn’t seem comfortable, to turn to other supportive people on campus like advisors or deans. Sarkar strongly emphasizes the importance and presence of a strong support system that is available to every student, saying, “We think every student has a complete robust support team that includes advisor, dean, Ms. McKenna, Mr. Thiermann, the learning specialists, the counselor, the dean of equity and inclusion, the CCE director. Every student has this team holding them up.” This is a hard time, so please reach out to the incredible support team around you if you need help. 

Schooling in a Time of Crisis

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Let’s admit it. School life is anything but normal nowadays. Just a few weeks ago we were spending warm spring afternoons on the patio, navigating the bustling hallway traffic, spending free periods in the library while sneaking whispers to friends, surviving long blocks, and attending assemblies twice a week in the MEW. As the school year comes to a close, we now find ourselves waking up twenty minutes before classes, baking copious amounts of bread, viewing our teachers and classmates through computer screens, and attempting to make it through our afternoons, all while keeping up with the latest news updates. 

The transition to distance learning wasn’t exactly smooth for everyone, and the Division Heads, Assistant Division Heads, and Dean of Academics and Community were hard at work crafting a new schedule that would maximize student-teacher interactions while still regulating screen time. Despite continuous redrafts of the schedule, students are still struggling to manage their time, workload, and stress. 

The initial distance learning schedule that went into full effect on Wednesday, March 18th only outlined the synchronous times. The schedule was designed so that students would be online from between 10 am and 12 pm, each class would check-in two times a week for 20 minutes, and students would receive 10-minute breaks in-between classes. That left students free to do work in the afternoons. 

Based on an overwhelming amount of feedback and survey data from students, parents, teachers, and neighboring schools, the administration decided to make some major changes, including the extension of class periods, alternating synchronous and asynchronous time, increasing the number of club meetings, and limiting advising to once a week. 

In an interview conducted by Sonia Mahajan, Saya McKenna clarified that the administration “didn’t want to extend synchronous screen time beyond 30 minutes because of data and reports of diminishing returns (and other damaging side effects) of excessive screen time. That said, we still imagine that students will be in front of screens for more than 30 minutes, given that a lot of instructional resources, materials, and interaction with peers are now accessed and conducted virtually.” 

Even when social distancing, the School’s notorious amount of homework continues to consume a major portion of students’ time. The heavy amount of work, coupled with the alternating synchronous and asynchronous sessions, has led to some confusion amongst students and teachers. The student feedback, which McKenna reported, stated that “having assignments due before the next class meeting verses at the end of the period relieves stress for a variety of reasons [because it allows for] some breathing room and less time pressure for students who need more processing time.” In attempts to relieve stress and minimize screen fatigue, the administration asks that teachers be mindful of the amount of classwork they assign during the 45-minute asynchronous sessions “so that students can complete their work within the allocated school day [instead of] adding on additional work that cuts into necessary downtime and family time.”

As someone who has relatively good time management and executive functioning skills (at least that’s what I like to think), I much preferred having all of the synchronous meetings in the morning so that I could have my entire lunch and afternoons free to do work. I do agree that 30-minute classes are much more productive and valuable, but I personally find those 45-minute breaks in between classes a bit awkward. 

Many of my peers expressed similar reactions to this aspect of the schedule, explaining that it typically takes more than 45 fully focused minutes to complete an assignment, and having to stop in the middle and come back to it later in the day is somewhat disorienting. McKenna stated, “We hope that the classwork (perhaps the more encompassing term) assigned will be do-able within the school day (asynchronous and homework blocks)… so that’s about 75 minutes of work per class with overflow limited to 30 minutes one to two times a week.”

For many students, including myself, switching between assignments is quite draining because we have to constantly shift our focus from one topic to the next. Though our current schedule is more detailed and fully fleshed out, I’m strangely feeling more unorganized. Nonetheless, I understand the intention of the 45-minute breaks because some students function better with a more structured day. Unfortunately for us students who prefer more flexibility, specifically the upperclassmen, we now have to pay the price. 

For those wondering if there will be any more changes made to the schedule if we have to continue this distanced format in the future, McKenna stated that the administration “will be formally surveying the broader community and continuing broader research to see if and how [they] can adjust and improve the experience.” For now, the schedule remains the same.

When taking all the feedback and adjustments into account, we must keep in mind that this time is a learning experience for both students and staff members. While we try to retain some normalcy in our lives, we must realize that our current situation is much more permanent than we hoped it would be. Our new, confusing reality now purely consists of virtual interactions, and whether we like it or not, we must accept the fact that we are schooling in a time of crisis. It’s not going to be easy for everyone, but the least we can do right now is attempt to welcome change.

Drama 2’s “A Quarantine Mystery” Episode 1

Local Restaurants and How to Support Them

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In an attempt to curb the coronavirus pandemic, many states have mandated the closure of non-essential bars, restaurants, and local businesses. As businesses try to navigate this crisis, here are some ways you can help your local restaurants from going out of business while still staying at home.

 

  1. Order take-out

Just because you can’t eat at your favorite restaurant doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy that restaurant’s delicious food. One option is to pick up a meal or delivery. If you’re craving Chick-fil-a or Bay Area favorite, Zachary’s Pizza, they are still offering takeout and delivery, as well as several other local businesses. Many delivery services are offering to waive the fees for orders placed by essential workers and are also willing to send someone a meal as well. Please remember to tip your delivery person extra, as gratitude for their work. 

 

  1. Buy gift cards

Support restaurants now and dine at them later by purchasing a gift card. When you buy one, the funds go directly to the restaurant. So make sure to stock up on holiday and birthday gifts for your family and friends. When the restaurants open back up, it will almost feel like you’re eating for free!

 

  1. Buy some merchandise

You can support your local business far beyond just buying food. Many of these places offer cool merchandise, such as tote bags, mugs, t-shirts, or comfortable sweatshirts. Even after the shelter in place is over, you’ll still be able to utilize these items and your purchase could have helped keep a business up and running. It sounds like a win-win situation to me!

 

  1. Make a donation

Many local businesses have set up Go-Fund-Me pages to raise money for their workers and to keep the business running. Any donation, big or small, could really help, so check to see if there are any local businesses you could donate to. 

What Professional Athletes Are Doing During Quarantine

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Getty Images/iStockphoto

Sports, set of athletes of various sports disciplines. Isolated vector silhouettes. Run, soccer, hockey, volleyball, basketball, rugby, baseball, american football, cycling, golf

Wimbledon, the biggest tennis tournament in the world, was cancelled 30 days ago. The NBA, MLB, MLS, and NHL are all suspended for the time being and it doesn’t look like they are coming back anytime soon. So what are professional athletes, the stars of these leagues doing? Well, pretty much the same things we are doing: reading books, attempting to stay in shape through neighborhood walks and treadmill runs, playing with pets, and most popular of all, video games. Athletes are becoming very involved in esports: two examples include the “Call of Duty: Warzone” tournament hosted for NBA players by basketball magazine Slam, and the widely popular, MLB sponsored “MLB The Show” league, where one player from each professional baseball team mans their virtual squad and participates in a full season.

Professional sports players have also been increasingly active on social media, posting videos of themselves training, playing with their children, and facetiming teammates. Big name NFL players Saquan Barkley, George Kittle, and Jamal Adams have conducted live stream interviews over the NFL’s Instagram account. Many MLB All Stars including Mike Trout, Max Scherzer, Aaron Judge, and Blake Snell have also answered questions on the MLB Instagram. This trove of interviews has given us insight into the thoughts of athletes during these crazy disease ridden times.

While most athletes are focusing on bettering themselves physically and entertaining their fans on Instagram, Warriors point guard Steph Curry is focusing on helping out the larger community of Oakland. Steph and his wife Ayesha are helping send out over 300 thousand meals a week through their foundation “Eat. Learn. Play” (SF Chronicle).

Overall, this documentation of what professional athletes are doing currently helps to illustrate where our focus and attention goes to during times like these. Though some athletes are being proactive in helping their communities with the pandemic, a good majority of professional athletes are sticking to the route of video games and Instagram. This serves as a good lesson for all of us: while it is enjoyable to play video games and have a good time, it is much more critical and significant to focus on the people who are most in need currently. Hopefully you can find some joy in helping others.

Environmental Benefits of COVID-19

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After receiving countless negative updates on America’s current COVID-19 statistics, my outlook on our current situation has grown to be quite negative. However, it is important to remember that social distancing can have positive side effects in which the environment, wild animals, and our pets all benefit from. 

The climate change benefits of coronavirus are immense, starting with the mass reduction of carbon emissions, emissions that have been dramatically decreased due to the increased number of people working from home. Between February 3rd and March 1st, China experienced a 25% decrease in carbon emissions, a decrease that measures to an estimated 200 million tons of carbon. China’s coal consumption also dropped by 36% from February 3rd to March 1st. Additionally, air quality in both Italy and China have improved immensely. These significant changes were captured by NASA below.  

Many wild animals have been spotted exploring cities while people are staying indoors. While wild deer are normally fed by tourists in parks, they now freely roam the empty urban streets of Nara, Japan. In New Delhi and Thailand, monkeys have been congregating in front of shops in search of food. And right here in Oakland, Guardian editor Charlotte Simmonds spotted wild turkeys playing on the playground at the elementary school next door. 

A girl wearing a face mask looks at a sika deer at a temple on March 12, 2020 in Nara, Japan.

Rivers worldwide are appearing crystal clear for the first time in ages, revealing fish and other marine life. In Venice, many attribute the water clarity to the minimal traffic on the canals, which calm has allowed sediments within the water to settle. In San Antonio, Texas, occupants have also observed that their local waterways have cleared due to the cancellation of Go Rio Cruises and other activities. People are pointing out objects in the water like crabs and beads left over from Mardi Gras events in February. 

The coronavirus has also allowed for beautiful moments of solidarity amid isolation. Videos of Italians singing from windows have circulated the internet, and neighbors have been offering to aid each other with groceries through postcards or notices in apartment buildings. In Nevada, a medical student set up a group of “shopping angels” who deliver groceries to elderly citizens or those with compromised immune systems. Therapists have created platforms on social media to aid with increased anxiety and stress. One small organization, the Help Hub, made their online services available nationally through the support of therapists around the country. Hopefully hearing about these snippets of kindness and environmental healing among the chaos of a global pandemic improve the quality of your day! 

Francesco and Greta Innominati wave after placing a banner reading “Everything is gone be all right” out of a window of their apartment in Rome on March 13, 2020.

 

a toast to good toasts #yum

a toast to good toasts #yum

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