New problems call for new solutions
Hancock Public Schools adapts old extracurricular programs, launches new ones, to adapt to virus precautions
By Mark Wilcox
For many, 2020-21 was the strangest school year and most challenging ever for students.
The most frustrating aspect for all concerned was the unknown and the fact that everything could change in a minute. Jesse Kentala is the principal at Hancock Middle School. He said all year long students and their parents had questions.
"Will there be a basketball season? How about spring concerts? What about graduation? There was just never a firm timeline at the state or national level and information changed constantly.”
He said the key to survival was that everyone had to learn to be adaptable and more importantly, creative.
Kentala said there wasn't an area of school life that was not impacted in some capacity by the pandemic. Hancock, like all other local districts, worked creatively to keep student programs and clubs moving forward.
"For example, our band concerts moved to a virtual platform so parents and the community could still enjoy these fine musicians. The middle school drama club performed ‘A Christmas Carol,’ which was filmed and shared with families."
Even the time-honored middle school camp experience was modified. Because Camp Nesbit was not open due to COVID-19, the school worked with Camp Michigamme in Marquette Couty to give 6th and 7th-grade students a unique camp experience that, Kentala said, “created lifetime memories.”
The impact of the pandemic on athletic programs received considerable attention and subsequent pushback from the parents of student-athletes.
“It was hard to miss the activism and pushback from parents regarding the sports season rollercoaster. Letters were written to the state, videos were created and shared online and social media blew up with slogans and protests,” Kentala said.
What was less visible was the impact on non-sports-related programs and the missed opportunities by so many students. With a significant number of students turning to online platforms or even home-schooling options, Kentala said many school programs and clubs suffered as a result.
“After-school programming was hit hard and many of these programs shrunk or even closed down completely, causing us to rethink how we provided extracurricular opportunities for our students.”
Noting that there was nothing fun about the COVID-19 pandemic, Kentala said it allowed for a creative approach to many non-athletic clubs and organizations.
“We understood the importance of providing students with opportunities to lead and grow, but we couldn't provide them in the same mode as in the past. As Alice Walker said ‘You can't step in the same river twice. The river is different and so are you.’”
Rather than focusing on what they couldn't control, Kentala said they elected to set their sights on what they could. Working with Finlandia University, Hancock started an e-sports team for both middle and high school students. The Coding Club met in socially distanced spaces with virtual instruction allowing students to grow in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) fields.
He said Hancock's service organizations, specifically the National Honor Society, altered their approach to volunteer hours.
“At one point before the holiday break, the entire Hancock Middle School sang carols to the elderly at Portage Pointe while high school students delivered care packages to students and families affected by the pandemic. It was a beautiful event.”
Kentala said the upcoming school year is looked at with excitement with renewed energy and an emphasis on filling the gap that COVID-19 left.
“At Hancock, we are switching to a trimester system that will allow students the opportunity to take many new and elective courses. We are aiming to create classes and clubs that give all students the opportunity to learn, lead and grow.”
Among those opportunities are an investment club allowing students to invest money in the stock market in real-time. There will be a "Girls who Code" club for middle school students with a passion for STEM. And there's more.
“The Civil Air Patrol is allowing middle and high school students the chance to learn to fly and our robotics team is continuing to do great things in a much anticipated non-COVID-19 environment.”
Kentala said that learning from the challenges and disappointments of the very difficult pandemic impacted school year has made the district more determined than ever to give students the best experiences they can.