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  • Writer's pictureFrank DiGiovanni

SMLI Interviews: A local High School student

Updated: Sep 8, 2022

Over the course of eight weeks of summer camp, I had the privilege of working with some great teachers. These are passionate, intelligent, kind and funny people who, for eight weeks, put their best effort into making science summer camp educational, fun and safe. But with these teachers are the counselors, the equally invaluable parts of summer camp that can be overlooked sometimes.

As part of the ongoing series of interviews, I got to sit down with one of them, Miss Natalie Wells, a high school student, starting her senior year at Manhasset Secondary School during an ongoing pandemic, and counselor extraordinaire for the 1st grade group for this most recent summer camp; Natalie was the counselor for five out of the eight weeks. And although each time she had to be absent (as she attended various events for her future schooling (college) or other academic pursuits, she was a vital part of what made 1st grade so successful this summer. We sat down on the humid morning of August 25th, before camp started, so I could get the point of view from the other side of the classroom.

1st grade counselor Natalie Wells is all smiles. Courtesy of Natalie

Natalie and I had already prepped for the day so as we sat down, I started by asking her, "With summer almost over, what has been the most enjoyable part of your 'time off'?" She didn't hesitate and with a smile said "Taking a little vacation to St. Thomas for a few days with my family. I didn't have to think about anything college-related, just spent the time relaxing. Also, working here helps keep me on my toes and plus, it's very enjoyable as well." Following up I went to the topic of school, where I asked what, if anything she was most looking forward to. And as a new driver, attending a high school with an open-campus, she eagerly said, "Driving to lunch, having a license and being with my friends again. Not having to have cafeteria food and being able to leave is going to be fun. I also am taking a class with one of my favorite teachers, History of Equity and Social Justice. I'm looking forward to it!" Taking a class with a favorite teacher is something I could completely relate to, and I expressed my "good luck" to her.

We moved to the topic of the... uniqueness... of the 2020-2021 school year and I asked her what the largest adjustment to the 2020-21 school year was. She didn't think long before saying, "The hybrid model of learning and being unsure of COVID and the worry that went along with it if someone tested positive. If they did, we had to go all virtual and Zoom teaching and learning was difficult to adjust to." Following up, I posed the question: What did you struggle with the most during the 2020-21 school year? Once again, the honesty was forthcoming as she replied. "Maintaining motivation. It was easy to be dishonest on a virtual test. The teachers didn't really know if people were looking up the answers or if they knew it. Trying to maintain integrity was also difficult."

However difficult the 2020-2021 school year was, it is important to look for the bright spots and successes had, which was my next question to Natalie. After thinking about what her biggest success during the aforementioned school year, she admitted it was writing a History paper. "Writing the final paper for US History because we could write about anything we wanted to. With that freedom, I wrote about the Harlem Renaissance and how it influenced the Civil Rights movement. It was really interesting to learn more about it and its impact on the Civil Rights movement 30+ years after it was 'over'." As we all strive to return to a more "normal" version of life with COVID in it, I inquired if she'd ever felt like school felt "normal" to her, and if so, when she finally felt that. "Yes, eventually. During the last two months of school when everyone was in-person, and I was seeing my friends every day. That's when it finally felt like it was 'normal' again." I think many of us might feel that way, whether it be our job or the students. So much of what I remember as "normal", pre-COVID, was seeing all the students coming in and out of the Museum for their various field trips. The last school-related question was about the possibility of speaking directly to the school board members: If you could tell the school board members any one thing you feel is important about yourself and your fellow classmates, as it relates to COVID, what would it be, and why? This question seemed to stop her for only a moment or two before answering. "We (the students) wouldn't have an issue with bending assignments' rules when learning virtually." I felt this was something that school boards across the country (and world) might have been battling since schools were forced to adapt their teaching methods.

With only a few minutes left before we had to start our drop-off procedures but as Natalie and I are both sports fans, I felt it appropriate to see how, if at all, sports has helped Natalie through the pandemic. "Yes." was her simple reply, but a moment later, and with a happy smile, she continued. "Sophomore year, we had our softball season cancelled! Thankfully for this past year, my junior year, we had practice was six days a week even with COVID precautions. Although shortened, we were able to get a full season in and I felt that the team really came together, maybe more than in the past." And although only a senior in High School and still young, Natalie already knows what the pain of being a Mets fan can be like. Like me, she watched them cough up the lead in the NL East they'd had earlier this year, which brought me to my last question. "Do you think the Mets will win a World Series in your lifetime?" With an optimistic laugh she stated simply, "Yes. In 10+ years." Let's hope that she's correct because this Mets fan is tired of waiting.

With that answered, we had to go and start to receive the children for the day and start what was the third-to-last day of Summer Camp 2021. Through the eyes of a high school student, I found more information about COVID that I'd expected and thanks to Natalie's help, Summer Camp 2021 was a smashing success! Thank you Natalie, for your help and time sitting with me. Best of luck in school this year!

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