Free from COVID Restrictions, Students Re-Engage in Extracurriculars

By the time the sky darkens to a midnight black and you can see the moon shining brightly through the clouds, you would think students were at home in their warm beds with a blanket covering them. Homework would litter their desks as they tirelessly try to complete the last of their schoolwork so they could finally relax. Instead, it’s a completely different visual as the bus stops are filled with students all trying to get home. The cold breeze makes them shiver against their winter jackets as they impatiently keep checking their phones. Leaving the school building at 5 o’clock on a Monday evening, their extracurriculars take up much of their after school. 

Their drill team practice makes their body ache while club meetings make them brim with exhaustion as their boulder-filled backpacks weigh them down. Yet, they still smile regardless of their drooping eyes as they get to participate in something they truly enjoy.

“People want to get back into things, they miss the interaction, they miss the activity, and now they have more free time,” play director and English teacher Ms. Contino said. “People are more willing to come show up and do stuff.”

Compared to the previous school year, participating in some extracurriculars, including high-contact sports, mandated students to have a vaccination due to the lasting effects of being back in person after quarantine. However, with the COVID restrictions being lifted, students are engaging more in clubs and teams that interest them.

“Currently this year we have a little over 40 members,” assistant play director, SO and MUN President Erin Jeon said. “Yeah, there were a lot more members than there were last year.”

Now, students feel more comfortable participating in extracurriculars and school-wide events. 

“We went into the auditorium and there were so many people standing there and I was like, this cannot all be for us,” Ms. Contino said. “We collected 80 stage crew applications, and still have students regularly emailing and showing up asking for them. And I have to say, we just literally ran out.”

Looking back at last year, COVID precautions made social interactions much more difficult as students followed social distancing and mask safety rules. Students were required to stay three feet apart as desks were separated and group work was limited. Throughout the entire year, students and teachers had to constantly keep their faces covered with masks, especially in class until the mandate was lifted later that school year.

“With the COVID restrictions you can’t have a lot of people close together because that’s considered a COVID hazard,” sophomore Yetong Li said. “I couldn’t join that many clubs and if I did join a club I would have to be extra precautious about what I do and how interactive I am. I didn’t feel safe enough to join.”

From the start of the 2021-2022 school year, masks were mandated for students and staff in all NYC public schools until it was lifted on March 8, 2022. 

“We were mandated to be masked for almost the entire process last year until maybe like the last week or so, or two weeks in May,” Ms. Contino said. “It was hard to see people’s facial expressions and everybody was kind of muffled and microphones and things like that.”

Due to these restrictions, students had limited in-person options available to them, resulting in alternative virtual activities and meetings instead. According to Jeon, “we had to be fully virtual and that’s really difficult for Model UN.”

“Last year we started off our club being fully virtual, so we couldn’t do a lot of the activities that we’re doing right now,” Jeon added. “So now this year, since we’re fully back in person, we’ve been doing a lot more drills where we actually interact with the club members.”

Different school committees at Francis Lewis also faced challenges when working around COVID restrictions.  The removal of some of these restrictions brought ease to faculty members in terms of planning and organizing events in school.

“For the auditorium, like for our grade meetings, we could do one again instead of three separate ones because we had to only have 300 people at a time, so it’s just less red tape,” S.O. advisor Ms. Whitney said.

Similarly to how the S.O. ‘s planning was altered to fit with new regulations, the various COVID restrictions put into place for students and teachers in the classroom last school year was a “really big difference from previous years,” according to Ms. Contino.

“Teachers circulate or go up and down the aisles or help out, we weren’t really supposed to, you know, stand over students and help and do things like that, because we were supposed to maintain that space,” Ms. Contino added. “And with Seminar, it’s complicated as well because it requires presentations.”

Apart from the struggles teachers faced, students faced additional challenges as Francis Lewis’s 7:15 AM-4:48 PM, 14-period bell schedule last year had negative impacts on their ability to engage in extracurricular activities and clubs after school.

“When I had a 14-period schedule we ended so late and like there weren’t any clubs during that time, ” Li said. “I couldn’t join any clubs unless I wanted to end really late.”

Jeon shares that “the Covid restrictions were definitely tough last year, especially being the first year that we came back to school in person, but we were able to work our way around it.” 

“Even though we had our obstacles, it was still memorable, it’s just been really difficult,” Jeon expressed. “I’m just looking forward to cherishing a normal high school experience again.”