While local school districts continue using technology and safety protocols to deliver a hybrid version of education during the Covid-19 pandemic, they’re also looking into ways of bringing other components of the school experience to students. Extracurricular activities, clubs, music and theater and sports have been affected by social distancing and self-quarantine over the past year, but in the Saugerties Central School District educators and students are doing everything they can to keep things moving forward.
SCSD Superintendent Kirk Reinhardt said using technology as a means of further connection is largely focused on high schoolers at the moment because school officials are wary of giving younger students too much screen time. Reinhardt added that the hope is that remote clubs and other activities will appeal to kids who might otherwise not have joined.
“We’re hoping that using technology may actually tap into some students who in the past maybe would not have had an opportunity because it may maybe due to transportation or other things,” Reinhardt said. “So we’re hoping to maybe grow some of our participation.”
Saugerties High School Principal Tim Reid said that participation has varied.
“This has been an interesting year for clubs and activities,” Reid said. “Certainly we see a longing for sports and activities that allow human connections. Most of our clubs and activities have shifted to a remote model. In some cases engagement and interest has decreased but in others we have seen a surge of interest.”
Reid said that both teachers and students have found ways to make numerous clubs work even during a pandemic.
“Our Key Club, which is typically one of our largest clubs, has shifted from working directly in the community to providing fundraising and awareness for clean water in Africa,” Reid said. “The Builders Club started a donation campaign that provided Christmas gifts and gift cards for sick children at the Albany Medical Center. The Student Council has donated time to initiate a peer-to-peer support program; this program offers a place for students to seek out assistance navigating high school and the hybrid/remote models…Our school newspaper has seen an increase in membership and they are considering an expansion due to the amount of contributions. Teachers have created new approaches that allow all students to have a voice and contribute.”
We spoke with several district and school administrators, as well as with faculty advisers, to see how things are going with their clubs.
National Honor Society/Math Team – Deb Cacchillo, math teacher
“Participation has been good,” Cacchillo said. “Math team meets are online and we try to find a time when most members can attend.”
The National Honor Society has also had to go with the ever-changing flow.
“We were unable to hold the National Honor Society induction ceremony in April (2020),” Cacchillo said. “We did everything online. It all worked out well, although there are still some members I have not met in person.”
Cacchillo said the honor society has held a pair of fundraisers online for the first time.
“The members were good about getting the word out,” she said. “We did not have to handle or collect money. We did well with our discount cards; it’s always something people come back to purchase. They ask every year. We did not do as well as last year with our citrus fruit fundraiser. Due to the pandemic, students were not asked to sell a certain amount; it was fine.”
Builder’s Club – Hope Antonelli, English teacher
“We’re the sister club to Key Club and designated under the Kiwanis Umbrella,” said Antonelli. “We are comprised of 7th and 8th graders. We are a non-for-profit organization; the kids who join and stick with it know that our club is about giving and helping others.”
Antonelli started the club as its faculty adviser in 2000, and since then the Builder’s Club has raised “tens of thousands of dollars.” But the pandemic has cut into their numbers.
“We have held walks, bake sales and drives for our community,” Antonelli said. “We are the largest club in the Junior High School; we usually have about 40-50 solid members, (but) we have about half of that now. We are only able to meet virtually and our bake sales are no longer allowed. We usually have done several fundraisers by this point. The holiday season creates a large need in our community, but thus far we have only been approved to do one fundraiser and that was for our toy drive for Albany Medical Center. We are planning our 5k – which usually takes place in November – for May. We hope to raise funds for a 10th grade student in our school that is battling cancer.”
Antonelli said that despite the challenges over the past year, the Builder’s Club is a determined bunch of kids.
“Things have been different, harder, but my kids keep shining,” Antonelli said. “We filled an SUV with presents and gift cards for the sick children at Albany Medical Center. The hospital was so grateful as donations have been down this year. We’re hoping that this is onward and upward and that we can get back to helping those in need.”
Student Government Class of 2022 – Michelle Milgrim, Math teacher
Milgrim said that participation in student government activities this year is roughly on par with prior years.
“We are currently running a trivia game and approximately 25 percent of the kids are playing; only three or four come to our once-a-month meeting…This online trivia game is fun. We have never done anything like this before and I think the kids are enjoying it.”
One challenge the Class of 2022 has yet to tackle is whether some form of a junior prom is possible using technology or social distancing.
Key Club – Cara Stropoli, Spanish teacher
Participation in Key Club has been roughly halved during the pandemic, Stropoli said.
“Most of what Key Club does is in the community, but due to the CDC guidelines there is not much we can do in person,” she said. “We kicked off our first virtual event to support Hydrate for 28; students are encouraged to drink 64 ounces of water a day, share the link to the campaign’s website, and raise money for clean water in Eswatini (a small country in Southern Africa).” (The 28 refers to the number of days in February.)
But while Key Club numbers are down, enthusiasm is not.
“As a first year Key Club advisor, I’m overwhelmed by the knowledge and support from my officers: Justine Lenz, Palak Patel, Elliot Wakefield, and Aiden North,” Stropoli said. “They’re really passionate about Key Club and great organizers.”
The push toward technology due to the pandemic may prove useful in the future.
“I believe there’s a whole lot we can do virtually to raise awareness for positive causes,” Stropoli said. “In some ways the pandemic has shed light on that.”
Student Council/The Spirit School Newspaper – Adile Jones, English teacher
Jones said that participation is up in both Student Council and the school newspaper this year, even with the former getting off to a late start.
“Most of the members come to our online meetings and have been active in surveys and activities,” said Jones of Student Council. “Participation has not decreased due to being remote. There are many less things we can do at this time, but the students have attended my online meetings and participated in any remote activities we have had.”
Students are staying connected through participation in the school newspaper as well.
“Many students can attend our virtual meetings (and) sign up to write articles and submit them online,” Jones said. “They have lots of ideas and have been contributing steadily. Honestly, we haven’t faced a challenge. The students have been really into writing and submitting.”
Student council may have good participation, but members haven’t been able to make as much of an impact as in years past.
“Since we can’t do our typical in-person activities, we have not been able to sponsor any blood drives this year,” Jones said. “That is extremely disappointing as there is such a great need now. Also, there is a limit to our ability to fundraise, so students can’t get out there and sell our grocery bags or wristbands. We have created an online store for Sawyer merchandise to raise money for scholarships. We are very proud to be spearheading a peer mentoring initiative in the high school. We maintain social media pages on Snapchat and Instagram to get information out to the student body, (and) we are making use of surveys as much as possible to see what students need and want in school.”
The Spirit is having something of a surprising renaissance this year.
“We had so many students wanting to write that we actually have to have them alternate issues,” Jones said. “We were able to turn out a beautiful first and second issue in October and November, and we are very proud of the accomplishment. The students’ enthusiasm for the paper has helped us to provide the SHS family with lots of great info. We were afraid we would not have much to write about since sports and so many activities have been cancelled, but they really surprised us. We are creating a mini-issue in honor of Valentine’s Day. Love to see the kids’ enthusiasm.”
Strength and Conditioning Club – Drew Carpino, Social Studies teacher
Due to COVID restrictions, the 40-student Strength and Conditioning Club only allows 10 students per session. The club is one of only a few ways student-athletes have been able to stay in good condition without the rigors of a standard practice and competition schedule.
“Our club has been steady throughout,” Carpino said. “We allow remote students a chance to participate on their cohort days. Our numbers are reduced to 10 per session to follow guidelines which hurts the chances of many students who wish to join the program. During a regular school year, we could have 20-30 student athletes per session.”
Carpino said the biggest challenge is maintaining social distancing guidelines for spotters during lifts, but it’s worked out so far.
“We have adapted to keep things clean and provide the students with a chance to improve their strength and conditioning,” Carpino said, adding that highlights are posted on the @Sawyer_strength Instagram account to help inspire other students. “The account shows the hard work student athletes have been putting in all year during these tough circumstances. For me personally each student has different strengths and weaknesses that they work on and it’s fun to see them improve and feel good about themselves as they reach strength and conditioning goals.”
Carpino said that the pandemic has hammered home how much student-athletes need to have an outlet to exercise in an organized, responsible way.
“They want the opportunity to exercise and improve their health and fitness,” he said. “When we return to normalcy I want to keep expanding the program to include as many students and athletes as we can so they all can benefit from exercise and gain confidence in their bodies as they grow and mature.”
French Club/Jr. High Spanish Club/Sr. High Spanish Club – Carolyn Munoz, Spanish teacher
French Club has the greatest participation among the clubs Munoz advises, its 27 more than the total of the Jr. High and Sr. High Spanish clubs combined. Both French Club and Jr. High Spanish Club (18 members) have seen an increase in 2020-21, while the Sr. High Spanish Club got off to a late start and is hoping to increase its numbers over the next few months.
“Since we have had to make sure our club members are safely participating, we have had to find activities that we could do in forms of ‘cultural craft/project kits,’” said Munoz. “The students pick up the materials for the project from school ahead of the meeting date and then log on to the meeting at home. Students get out the project kit and work on them as a group, sharing with the other club members.”
The meetings are held later in the day to allow participation from both remote students and those who are in class on a hybrid schedule to allow the latter group time to get home.
“If a student misses the activity, there are how-to videos for the projects on the club Google Classroom so the students can watch the video after,” Munoz said.
The annual French Club Flea Market, scheduled for late-February of this year, has been canceled, with an eye on its returning in February 2022.
SHS Band/SHS Band Fundraiser Account – Marisa Trees, Music teacher
In December, the Jr. and Sr. High School held a virtual music event in place of annual in-person concerts.
“This was a department effort, each teacher taking charge of planning, rehearsing, coordinating, recording and editing their respective groups’ contributions,” said Trees. “It was tricky to coordinate the different cohorts to make sure that every student who wanted to participate was able to do so. For most of the groups, we tried to record the ensembles while they were live in school, making it more like a real concert. We also tried to choose a varied repertoire just as we would do for a regular concert. The final product consisted of short excerpts of each of the ensembles at the Jr./Sr. High School.”
Given the relatively small size of the auditorium, the virtual concert was a smash.
“With over 2,000 views on Facebook, we consider it a success,” Trees said.
An offshoot of SHS Band, the fundraiser account raises money to sponsor clinicians and guest artists for classes during the school day, pays for varsity-style letters and scholarships for graduating seniors, and in some cases can offset costs of trips to the Metropolitan Opera or the New York Philharmonic. Student registration fees for the New York State School Music Association (NYSSMA) Solo Festival is also covered by the account and reimbursed by students.
“We have not conducted a fundraiser this year, nor scheduled our annual trip to NYC as our preferred performance venues have not yet reopened,” Trees said. “The NYSSMA Solo Festival is happening this spring, as a virtual festival; that is exciting. This continues to be an optional event for our students and they are signing up. We are delighted to be preparing for this annual event as it was canceled last year due to the pandemic.”
Yearbook – Jen Murphy, English teacher
“Participation in my club has been intermittent,” said Murphy. “We are working with a new program this year, Layout Pro, so it’s been challenging to get people trained on it remotely. We have had a few online meets which have generated interest and students have been very supportive and helpful in offering up ideas to combat our current situation. Historically, a lot of the yearbook is based on happenings in and around school, so with the limitations we are facing, we’ve had to be extra creative.”
The 2020-21 yearbook will fill the void of in-person experiences with memories of years past. Also planned for this year’s yearbook is coverage of things that might otherwise not have made it into print.
“A highlight in our yearbook is always the senior class,” Murphy said. “This year’s reality has allowed us to include some things that we normally wouldn’t have space for like sibling, family, baby, casual, and unique photographs, in addition to each senior’s formal portrait, private thank-yous, and quote.”
Photo submissions this year have been easier to manage, Murphy said, because Google Classroom makes it simple to track and connect them with a specific student.
“On the whole, it’s been a challenge, for sure, but we are hopeful that our Sawyer spirit and pride will shine through our pages and preserve the memories of an unprecedented year,” Murphy said.
Video Production – Jackie Hayes and Scott Wickham
“Our students have come up with remarkable creative ideas for creating work for video production,” wrote Hayes and Wickham in a joint reply. “Using online script-writing and shot listing software, they use the cameras on their phones to gather footage that they edit in online editing websites.”
While students with prior experience are doing well, others who are new to video production are having a more difficult time.
“We find we need to assist new students a lot more, and break assignments down into smaller parts, (and) it takes a lot longer to complete units,” Hayes and Wickham said. “The challenges were hardware and software related, but we did some research and investigation and came up with solutions. Additionally, when students are in our classroom, we are able to keep their attention. When they are in their own homes and just with us online, it is much more difficult to know who or what has their attention.”
The annual Sawyer Film Festival, held on the first Friday in June, is likely going to happen online for a second straight year, depriving young filmmakers the chance to see their work on a big screen in the auditorium before an audience. But the Video Production Club is partnering for the first time with Woodstock Day School to participate in the Ulster County Youth Film Festival.
“This is a new opportunity that might not have happened without the shutdown, so that is one positive thing,” said Hayes and Wickham.
As students completed a Super Bowl commercials project they learned that Avery Herzog, SHS Class of 2014, edited the Sam Adams commercial that aired during this year’s game.
“This added a little spark to our students who saw that what they are doing in the classroom actually translates to the’ real world,’” wrote Hayes and Wickham. “We showed them the commercial Avery made when he was in our class. We find that students assume that, of course, their teachers are able to do the work, but when they see that students just like them create great work, it ignites a little competition in them and they want to do even better.”