By Caroline Peplinski, Current Staff
Today marks the first opportunity for clubs and co-curriculars at the West Bend High Schools to connect in person this year.
While athletics have been functioning since the beginning of school, co-curriculars have been limited to virtual alternatives. That decision was the result of a large amount of thought and consideration on the part of administration, which now finds it safe for clubs to reopen in-person. Club advisors were notified Oct. 28 that a policy reevaluation would be going into effect, enabling them to resume co-curricular meetings as they deemed fit while still observing social distancing guidelines. Routes would include continuing virtually, beginning to meet in-person, or a hybrid of the two.
“I think the key is, the advisors know their clubs and co-curriculars better than I do and they have a pulse for what they can do safely,” said Kevin Bryant, East athletic director and WBHS activities director. “For me it really boils down to trusting them, trusting their advice and then making a decision that holistically works for the school.”
Many advisers have experienced difficulties operating this year and while some have made the decision not to go forward with their clubs, others have employed new techniques to connect and accomplish goals as a group.
“Our clubs have had a hard time doing everything 100% virtually,” said Mark Drake, a West social studies teacher and adviser of both the Model United Nations and Mock Trial clubs. “Just like with teaching, everything takes longer to do. What we could accomplish in-person is harder to do virtually.”
West social studies teacher Jacqueline Schmoldt advises the Youth Impact Club (YIC) and says that the group has had to be more innovative with both meetings and communication.
Safety has been the reigning factor in decisions to stay virtual until now. The school has adhered to regulations and suggestions put out by the Wisconsin Interscholastic Athletic Association and the North Shore conference when it pertains to athletics, which include many coronavirus-related safety measures like social distancing or mask-wearing practices. Decisions related to the operation of co-curriculars, however, has fallen to WBHS administration.
Knowing the eagerness of many students and advisers to meet in person once more, the administration has acted in an attempt to allow that to happen while also assuring the health and wellness of students, faculty and the community.
“All of us as administrators want to give every student in this building as many opportunities as possible and do so in a safe manner, and then evaluate clubs and co-curriculars,” Bryant said. “We feel like we are at a place now where we can operate those clubs and co-curriculars.”
Other than the important factor of reducing the risk of transmitting COVID-19, the operations of vital individuals like custodial staff have come into play.
“Once we go back to in-person, that’ll put a little more stress on, for instance, our custodial staff because now you still have kids in the building and so that was part of the delay,” Bryant said. “(We needed) to make sure that we could safely have a place where custodial could still get to every room.”
There has been mixed opinions among advisers and students on whether or not to reopen.
“I’d say the majority of (advisors) wanted to go back in-person, but not all of them,” Bryant said. “Some of them are still choosing to be virtual for various reasons, and I 100% support both sides on that.”
Schmoldt has decided to continue running YIC virtually, saying that it is safer and provides more flexibility for meeting times.
“Our YIC members were comfortable and voted to continue meeting online,” she said. “With the pandemic numbers in Wisconsin, they all agreed it was best to keep the online meetings.”
Drake plans to reopen his clubs in-person while still supplying a virtual option.
“We hope our clubs can engage in the same in-person way as classrooms or sports teams have been able to since September,” he said. “We don’t want to be an after-thought. Our clubs matter.”
Bryant says that the community has been extremely supportive and students are excited to be in school and to have opportunities available to them.
“Overall they understand the climate we’re in and are just excited that we’re having those opportunities,” Bryant said. “I’ve said from day one, the most important thing is for us not to lose sight that our goal here is to give students the best experiences and memories that are possible. We can’t just focus on Covid and the damage that it can do. We also have to focus on students and (their) mental well-being.”
Participation in clubs and co-curriculars, like athletics, has been high this year, with Schmoldt reporting a 45-member strong Youth Impact Club and Drake observing excitement among club members, especially newcomers.
Administration would like students and the community to be aware of their attempts to make this difficult time as enjoyable and memorable as possible. Bryant says the office welcomes any input or ideas from students and the community.
“There’s no part of this that’s normal or fun,” Bryant said. “We really are trying to balance our safety procedures with the well-being of our students and the experience of our students. Whether it’s students, parents, community members, whoever it is, my door’s always open. I’m always willing to listen to that and gain ideas, whether it be from students, advisors, or parents, then try to implement and work through those ideas.”
(Top image: Members of Mark Drake’s Mock Trial team maintain social distancing while working with virtual students during today’s first in-person meeting this year. Photo by Caroline Peplinski, Current Staff.)