Thursday, September 24, 2020

BMCHSD offers virtual model for those who want to learn from home

By Rebecca Kussin

With the hybrid educational model in full swing during the first two weeks, some students have opted for the Alternate Virtual Learning program for students who want to learn from home for this school year.

Each class is using Google Classroom as its primary platform. On the homepage of each Google Classroom is a link to a Google Meet "live stream" of the in-person lesson. Full-time remote students will be logging on from home every day––unlike hybrid students who do so every other day. At-home learners still follow individual schedules, as well as a regular school day with nine periods. Those who choose this model will be able to talk, see, and hear as these classes proceed in the building. 

According to Mr. Michael Harrington, Assistant Superintendent for Curriculum, “Currently around 400 students [in the district] will start the school year virtually. Those numbers may increase slightly if we decide to transition to a full in-person model.” Having access to your personal Google Account is essential because Google Classroom and Google Meet will be used every day. Classwork, homework, and other information can be found under each teacher’s tab on Google Classroom. 

The Alternate Virtual Learning Model has very few differences from the Hybrid Model. Students will still be expected to attend classes on time, do homework, and participate. Grades are still essential, and at-home learners get graded in the same way as Hybrid students do. Students can track their progress on Infinite Campus. Also, Alternate virtual learners will have support from guidance counselors, social workers, and other staff. Each teacher has his or her extra-help policy, and remote learners will still get to take advantage of the opportunities that come from attending. 

Many students feel that this model works great: “[I]n such a time of uncertainty the last thing I want to worry about is being exposed to the virus at school. I feel like if I were to go, I would constantly be worried about touching things or being too close to people, which would distract from my learning experience. I’m confident enough in the online learning system that I know I will be more focused if I am learning from home. I think my parents just want to be cautious about being around other people, and if we have the option to avoid being put in the situation then we would rather do that,” said Liliana Davis, a Kennedy senior who opted for full-time remote learning. Online etiquette is important, as well. Remote students are expected to pay attention and to keep their cameras on when they join a class. 

Overall, the Alternate Virtual Learning model is a good way for students to learn during times of uncertainty and fear. This program helps preserve daily interaction during the pandemic. The 2020-21 school year will be more challenging than those in the past, but if everyone stays patient and understanding, there will be a success for each person in the Cougar Nation. 

Thursday, September 17, 2020

Let's Hear it for the Ladies, Cougars!

By Rachel Nossen

It’s time for the Kennedy community to stop using the term “Lady Cougars.” It is completely degrading and inappropriate. Kennedy High School is one of many schools that use the word “Lady” in front of their team name when referring to female sports teams and their athletes. From the people who write the school announcements to the editors in the town newspaper, this title has become established and widespread. And while it may be done innocently, it is demeaning.

My whole life I have been surrounded by sports. I started playing travel soccer and basketball in 3rd grade. I’ve attended Knicks, Mets, and Jets games since I was young. I loved watching the competition and how professional athletes dominated the game. In a way, I was inspired to be like them. When I was asked what I wanted to do when I was older, I always said that I want to be a professional soccer player. In elementary school, I was the only girl who played basketball with the boys during recess time. The boy captains never picked me last, because they knew I could keep up with them and score baskets. Still, today when boys or older men see me on the court they say, “Wow, you don’t shoot like a girl,” or, “You’re very physical.” What does that mean? Do they not know that there are thousands upon thousands of talented female athletes who can outperform men? Several males are even surprised that I know so much about professional sports. Through my experience, sports have become so stereotypically male-dominated that when females have an ounce of skill or knowledge about the game, our male counterparts are shocked.

The media and production companies are complicit in gender marking, which designates male athletes and men’s sports as the default, while presenting female athletes and women’s competitions as secondary. On television, viewers see “Women’s Final Four” or “Women’s FIFA World Cup.” When most people see this on their screens, they do not think anything of it. They think it is normal. A small percentage of viewers might question this labeling. For example, why is it that the Women’s Final Four is labeled but the men’s game is simply titled “Final Four”? Gender marking is a form of gender bias. It indicates and assumes that male events are the accepted ones and do not need anymore qualification. It makes it sound as though the female competitions are the “other” category. Imagine if we started to call the NBA the Men’s National Basketball Association.

Sports broadcasters also portray female athletes and competitors in stereotypical ways. They talk about her looks and appearance rather than their ability and talent. They will use the phrase, “She’s a strong girl.” They take both a positive and negative adjective and place them together. While the broadcaster might think they are giving the athlete a compliment, they are undermining her hard work and talent. The word “girl” connotes someone gentle, delicate, and (of course) “feminine.” Think about it: Would an announcer ever describe a male football player as “a strong boy?” Kids are raised with the traditional ideas that females do not belong in sports or male-dominated fields, and the media’s gender biases contribute to these sexist beliefs.

Not only do female athletes have to break the barrier of gender marking, but they also are fighting unequal pay. In the past few years, the U.S Women’s National Soccer Team has worked to bring public attention to this issue. The team has even sued the United States Soccer Federation for its gender discrimination. Many players in the WNBA have also taken a stand. A'ja Wilson who was the first-round pick of the WNBA in 2018 earned about $50,000 in her rookie season, while the first-round pick of the NBA in the same year (Deandre Ayton) was expected to earn just under $7 million. According to the New York Times, the highest-paid female athletes earn eight times less than the lowest-earning NBA players. This is a troubling statistic because they play the same amount of games and have similar training routines. And yes, I understand the women’s leagues draw less revenue; however, the Jacksonville Jaguars draw less revenue than the New York Giants. Do the players in Jacksonville have lower salaries than the Giants? No.

For these reasons, I am calling on Kennedy High School to stop using the term “Lady Cougars” when speaking about the female teams and athletes. It perpetuates gender bias and stereotypes that reinforce sexism and inequality. Kennedy must initiate this step so it can be the model for other high schools and colleges. If we are not saying “Boy Cougars”, then we sure do not need to say “Lady Cougars.” Let’s start the new school year by treating all student-athletes equally.

Wednesday, September 16, 2020

"If anyone can open schools, we can."

By Jake Arlia

On August 7, Governor Andrew Cuomo announced that our state––a former epicenter of the COVID-19 outbreak––would permit in-person instruction in schools from the start of the new academic year. Touting our low infection rate, the governor assured New Yorkers that “[i]f anyone can open schools, we can open schools.”

As per Cuomo’s orders, Kennedy will hold classes in person so long as the daily rate of new COVID cases in Nassau County remains below five percent over a fourteen-day average.
Most BMCHSD parents were pleased with this news. According to a districtwide survey, 81% were in favor of full-time in-person learning for their children.

Superintendent John DeTommaso acknowledged students’ and parents’ eagerness for a full return while also expressing the need to prioritize everyone’s safety and well-being in the BMCHSD community. He wrote, “With Governor Cuomo’s decision, the district now has the approval to move towards [our goal of full-time in-person learning], but BMCHSD has made the thoughtful decision to do so in the safest and smartest way possible for students, parents, and staff. Nothing we do is more important than that, and our ability to create the safest, healthiest environment for all who enter our buildings is paramount in our reopening decisions.” As such, the first two weeks of our school year have begun with a variation of the district’s state-approved hybrid model, which features a combination of remote and in-person learning. The capacity of students in each building has been cut in half by an alphabet divide.

For the first week of school (9/8 – 9/11), students with last names starting with “A” through “L” (Group A) attended in-person classes on Tuesday and Thursday. Students with last names beginning with “M” through “Z” (Group B) attended classes remotely via Google Meet. On Wednesday and Friday, Group B was in school while Group A logged on from home.

The second week of school (9/14 – 9/18) follows the regular blended learning model, in which Group A attends school in person on Mondays and Thursdays and learns remotely on Tuesdays and Fridays; conversely, Group B attends school in person on Tuesdays and Fridays and learns remotely on Mondays and Thursdays. For Wednesday, Mr. DeTommaso explained, “[All students] will attend live classes remotely from home as per the hybrid plan schedule. This will give students and staff the opportunity to familiarize themselves with full class, live remote lessons, which may be necessary for the future. The administrative team will meet on this day to discuss our plans to either move forward with full in-person or to remain in the hybrid model. Parents will be notified of that decision on or before September 16th.”
Mr. Joe Innaco, Director of Administrative & Instructional Technology, is confident in our district’s ability to transition to different learning models in emergencies. “[There exist] external factors that may affect our BMCHSD educational community, such as COVID infection rates. Our district Instructional Technology vision of the Digital Age Learning environment is one that provides increased opportunities for students to take a more active role in their education regardless of the setting,” said Innaco.

Entering & Exiting the Building

All individuals must wear face coverings over their mouths and noses when they enter the building. The administrators have made it clear that refusal to wear a mask will not be tolerated. Students received Kennedy-themed cloth masks on their first day of in-person instruction, and those who forget to bring face coverings in the following days will be provided with disposable surgical masks. Gaiters and masks with breathing valves are not permitted forms of face coverings.

Students and staff enter the building in the same locations as usual, though everyone is expected to comply with new safety procedures at the arrival checkpoints. School officials have posted informational signs and physical distancing markers at these entrances.

Before the day begins, students and faculty must fill out an online health form on a district-controlled website. In addition to showing their ID cards to security, students and faculty must also display their smartphones with a completed questionnaire. There is a “color of the day” displayed on the site after the form is submitted successfully. Students who do not have smartphones are given a paper version to complete before entry.

All individuals who enter the building must take their temperatures at these arrival checkpoints as well. The utilization of wall-mounted thermometers makes this process quick and easy, and it requires no direct contact. If students arrive with self-reported COVID symptoms and/or a confirmed temperature above 100ºF, the school will contact their parents or guardians. Students will wait in a room on the first floor for their parents or guardians to pick them up.

Students who arrive and pass the safety checks before 7:20 A.M. proceed to the boys’ side of the gym, the girl’s side of the gym, or the auditorium. After waiting at these distancing centers, students head over to their first period classes.

Regular dismissal of students at the end of the day does not require any specific safety precautions. Everyone is expected to exit the building in an orderly fashion.

Classrooms, Hallways, & Bathrooms

Desks in all classrooms are positioned four to six feet apart from each other, with each desk encased in a transparent barrier.

Though custodians clean each classroom regularly, they do not do so between each period, as it takes approximately fifteen minutes to complete the sanitizing process. Depending on their comfort levels, students are welcome to clean their hands and desk area before taking their seats. Custodians have stocked all rooms with hand sanitizer, disinfectant wipes, and disposable gloves.

To minimize hallway traffic, students will not use lockers this year. With new staggered release times in place, students in physical education classes can leave one minute before the period ends. Students in lunchrooms are allowed to leave one and a half minutes before the period ends. In regular classrooms, teachers dismiss students one row or section at a time. Ultimately, the period lengths and time between classes remain the same, but no bell sounds to signify the beginning and end of classes.
District officials have placed directional arrows in all hallways and stairwells to keep traffic moving smoothly between periods. Restrooms are monitored consistently throughout the day to ensure that only two students are in a given bathroom at once. One boys’ restroom and one girls’ restroom is available on every floor at all times.

Gym, Lunch, & Mask Breaks

All physical education classes now follow an individualized fitness curriculum designed to limit person-to-person contact. Students do not have access to the locker room, and they do not have to change into gym clothes. Students have the opportunity to take off their face coverings during outdoor gym activities.
For lunch, students can still bring their food and order from outside vendors, and there is a grab-and-go cold lunch service for students who purchase food in school. To avoid exchanging coins and paper money, the school has invested in scanners for students to pay with their barcoded ID cards.

Both cafeterias are open to students during lunch periods, and the auxiliary gym is being used as a third lunchroom. All seats in these locations are distanced and barriered. Students are not required to wear masks as they are sitting and eating, and they may also have the chance to eat outdoors. Juniors and seniors are permitted to leave campus for lunch. Their temperatures are rechecked upon their return. Adults in the building are aware of the discomfort and distress some students may feel about having their faces covered for hours. As a result, there are supervised “mask breaks” in locations such as the courtyard and wellness center.

If Someone Tests Positive

The Nassau Department of Health will alert our administrators if someone in our building has tested positive for COVID-19. The school will shut down for forty-eight hours, and there will be an immediate transition to the remote learning schedule. Students who came in contact with the COVID-positive individual will be notified as soon as possible. Keeping track of assigned seating and attendance will aid in the contact tracing process.

Cautious Optimism from District Administrators

Members of our district’s administrative team have acknowledged the difficulties associated with the reopening process, but they hold a positive, hopeful outlook amid the controversy and uncertainty.
Ms. Cheryl Fontana, Director of Fine & Performing Arts and Adult Education, has a similar philosophy concerning our learning community’s adaptability, specifically, as it applies to art and music. “The beauty of art and music courses is that they are based on creativity! [Thinking] outside of the box is the norm…and what makes the courses so much fun. Our teachers and I have been working all summer to explore various curricular opportunities [in a virtual learning environment, and we hope] to maintain the integrity of as much of what will be taking place in the physical classroom as possible but also recognizing that it may be completed in an alternate, innovative manner,” said Fontana.

Assistant Superintendent for Curriculum Mr. Michael Harrington said, “There have been so many challenges over the last five months, but I could not be more fortunate to be part of such a wonderful school district. We have worked together to develop plans, prepare our buildings, train our teachers and staff, and now it is time to bring students back. Whether students return in person or learn remotely, we want to make sure that we provide them with the best quality education and meet not only their academic needs but also their social and emotional needs as well. And most importantly, keep the health and safety of our students and staff as our top priority.”

BMCHSD offers virtual model for those who want to learn from home

By Rebecca Kussin With the hybrid educational model in full swing during the first two weeks, some students have opted for the Alternate Vir...