Though the hybrid model at the high school aims to make life in school as normal as possible while still adhering to COVID-19 safety protocols, any restrictions put in place greatly affect how the Performing Arts department runs classes and conducts plays and concerts.
Navigating through an altered curriculum that maintains social distancing and mask-wearing customs while also making an effort to include both in-person and online students challenges is very challenging for teachers. These safety protocols impose drastic changes heavily upon the Performing Arts department classes that require intimacy, close contact and projection of voices.
One challenge the choral department significantly struggles with is the difficulty in projecting voices and hearing others sing while wearing a mask. According to the safety guidelines set forth by the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) and the Governor’s office, students must sing outside, ten feet apart, masked, and facing one direction.
Due to the differences in speed of internet services, lag presents another challenge on Zoom by preventing singers from singing or playing simultaneously and in time with one another. Zoom also allows only one microphone to be picked up at a time, so class cannot address vertical harmony and tuning. Students on Zoom, as a result, must sing on mute.
“This is very strange to say the least because this means the teacher never actually hears the singers sing,” said Dr. Kevin McDonald, choral director.
Ms. Kara Sullivan, the theatre director, worked for much of the summer educating herself on techniques to make theatre feel “real” for students online. One way she did this was by taking a week of online classes with Broadway professionals with a grant she earned from the Parent Teacher Student Organization (PTSO). She finds that there are pros and cons to taking theatre class online.
“There is an intimacy in theatre that is difficult to create online and it provides for a lot of obstacles. However, for those students who may feel more shy in person, Zoom can help provide a safer place for those students,” said Sullivan.
The hybrid model forced the Performing Arts department to alter the curriculum and organization of classes . For chorus, online and in-person students start together, listening to and sharing music, taking care of general business and announcements, and addressing the instruction of music fundamentals using the projector screen, screen sharing with both cohorts. Half way through the class, the remote cohort group receives a written music assignment, and the in-person cohort goes outside to set up and get ready to sing.
“Individual instruction is a bit easier because you can provide accompaniment tracks for students to use at home; you can have one singer perform from home using the accompaniment track and the teacher can listen and respond to what they hear and instruct specific topics on their vocal performance,” said McDonald.
Sullivan transferred her curriculum into focusing more on script analysis and playmaking as opposed to performance work.
“I like to think of turning these challenges [of the restriction on the curriculum] into opportunities… It is a great way to read plays of different voices, create work of our own and branch out,” said Sullivan.
In terms of live performances, choral concerts and the fall play will not happen in-person. However, there will be a documentary filmed and streamed for the fall play, The Laramie Project Ten Years Later, in December. Auditions were held online, and online rehearsals happen three times a week. The choral department is focusing on virtual concerts using technology that will be shared out in the community through Youtube and social media.
“The wonderful community of the arts department is still very present even if it is over Zoom or six feet apart outside,” said Lucy Calcio ’22.
Fall II Sports, consisting of indoor track, football, cheerleading, and girls’ volleyball have been set to run from February 22 to April 25. Originally moved from the normal fall season due to concerns about close contact between players, the season is planned to begin with new guidelines adapted from previous seasons.
Similar to the guidelines set by Massachusetts Interscholastic Athletic Association (MIAA) during the Fall I season, players and coaches must continue to adhere to social distancing guidelines like mask wearing, six-feet distancing, and staggered practice times.
However, despite the restrictions, coaches and players are grateful that the season will happen. Jesse Davis, head coach of the high school’s varsity football team is ready to face the challenges of a socially distanced season.
“I am grateful and thrilled that we are getting an opportunity to play this year. Not playing in the fall has greatly impacted the players,” said Davis. “Football is very important to our players, and this program is special to them. They work very hard throughout the year to prepare themselves to play and are passionate about being a part of the team and this program.”
Football regulations limit full-contact drills to only thirty minutes per week, or 45 minutes in a week without a scheduled game. Team timeouts have also been extended to two minutes, and halftime adjusted to be ten minutes, so that teams have time to address player needs and injuries without being rushed.
“Yes, of course it [adapting to regulations] will be difficult, but we will do whatever we have to do in order to give the players the best possible Fall II season experience we can.” said Davis.
For girls’ volleyball, guidelines were recently adapted to remove the ‘COVID Line’, a line three feet from the net on both sides. Players were restricted from attacking the ball when it was above net height in zone. The line was previously observed to preserve social distancing between teams, but has since been removed due to difficulties in judging and maintaining the line. However, MIAA rules continue to mandate the limit of fifteen players per team, and staggered practice times.
“I’m excited to get to play with my teammates again, because with clubs, we all kind of split off. So it’s not the same dynamic,” says Jocelyn Li ’23.
In cheerleading, MIAA guidelines limited stunt groups, or cohorts, to no more than ten athletes. During games, up to twenty cheerleaders are allowed, and stunt groups must be positioned twenty feet apart from each other. In addition, twisting, inversions, and pyramids have been barred, and all other stunts must account for mask wearing.
For both boys’ and girls’ indoor track, many protocols affect the way that meets are conducted. For sprints and hurdles, start blocks are prohibited and athletes are required to line up in every other lane. Other regulations include the sanitation of equipment between uses, and staggering the position of athletes at the start of each race to account for social distancing regulations.
Maintaining social distancing among players will be a difficult task that will take the combined efforts of everyone involved.
“We can tell kids to not congregate until we’re blue in the face. And it’ll just keep happening because that’s just the nature of how teams work,” said Fabian Ardila, coach of the high school girl’s volleyball team. “And we do it and we do it over and over and over again. And you’ll find that at every school, not just at Wellesley or anywhere specific, every school is contending with the same situation.”
With the addition of these rules, safety continues to be the number one priority of coaches and staff.
The most important thing we can do right now is to make sure we’re following the guidelines and keeping people safe,” said John Brown, the athletics director at the high school. “Because if you’re not keeping people safe, what are you doing playing sports? As we always say, it’s a privilege to be able to play sports, right now even more so.”
Although COVID has thrown obstacles in the way of the high school’s sports teams, players and coaches continue to readjust themselves to allow the new season to happen.
“The players and coaches are mentally tough. We want to get out there ASAP, and we will adapt, improvise, and overcome any obstacle we have to face. We won’t take a minute out there for granted and everyday is a chance to get better. It is not a ‘we have to follow the guidelines so we can play’ mentality, it’s a ‘we get to follow the guidelines so we can play’ mentality.” says Davis.