Communicating through COVID 

Students and staff take to conventional and new forms of communication to stay in touch during the COVID-19 outbreak.

April 17, 2020

The outbreak of COVID-19 has prompted change for many: classes conducted via Zoom calls are a new norm and the deliberate separation from one another is a reality. What hasn’t changed is the communication among students and their peers as well as educators. As the rate of remote communication has spiked, the BVNW community has realized in-person contact is not necessary for effective communication in the classroom and beyond.

In the wake of Athletic Director Kevin Gerke’s death last week, students and staff did not let social distancing limit their desire to express their appreciation of him. Instead, there was a school-wide outpour on social media, thanking the administrator for his service and acknowledging the impact he had on BVNW. The coronavirus pandemic did not stop students from spreading the word to set up a memorial for Gerke outside the school, as well. 

As seen in the reaction to Gerke’s death, information is spreading throughout the BVNW community at a rapid rate. This is mostly due to the use of the conventional communication methods: texting, Facetime and social media. In a recent survey conducted of 143 students, about 80 percent said they use each method regularly. 

Commenting on why he thinks the conventional methods of communication are favored currently, senior Nate Lemke said it is due to familiarity with the applications. Lemke further said that he prefers Snapchat when staying in touch with others, but has also found a new love for Facetime. 

“I like the face to face aspect of it,” Lemke said. “Before I would Facetime to do homework. But now, I’m Facetiming to talk with my friends, which I would never do. It’s better than just texting.” 

Valuing the face to face aspect of video chatting applications as much as Lemke, the school provided all teachers with time to hold classes using Zoom. The vocal music department is one of many who have taken advantage of the application. Choir director Beth Richey-Sullivan said although it is impossible to sing together on the video chatting service, Zoom has allowed her to continue to conduct classes.

“The heartbeat of what we do is being together in the choir community, breathing together [and] feeling the music together,” Richey-Sullivan said. 

During the first week of virtual instruction, Richey-Sullivan said she decided to abstain from picking up where each respective choir left off and instead used the provided virtual instruction time to chat and check in with her students. 

“We have had time to laugh together on the Zoom. The Chamber Singers did a non-music talent show and it was hysterical,” Richey-Sullivan said. “I saw a cooking show and someone solved a Rubik’s Cube. [It was] just what we needed that first week. We just needed to laugh together.”

To help with the sudden shift from in-person schooling to virtual instruction, students have sought out Discord as a way to communicate about what is going on in their classes. Junior Kyle Hamara, co-creator of a server on Discord named “BVNW,” said his server features every core class offered at the school and about 90 students currently use it, with all grade levels being represented.

In conjunction with its educational purpose, Discord can be used for a variety of other reasons, as it has voice chatting and direct messaging capabilities. Hamara said he also uses it for gaming and typically leaves the application on throughout the day. Additionally, he said Discord is his favorite application to use when communicating with others and has helped him maintain his relationships. 

“There’s a lot of people you can chat with and it really has helped me keep in touch,” Hamara said. “In a broader sense, [it allows me] to talk to a group of people [rather] than just one person individually.” 

Instead of using Discord to game like Hamara, Lemke said he prefers to use a mic when playing his Playstation 4 virtually with friends. Lemke said he would only play on his console a few times a week prior to the stay at home order, but has since begun playing everyday. Lemke also mentioned how the allure of being able to chat with friends is a motivating factor. 

On top of gaming, Lemke said he’s been videotaping himself and his brother, Matthew, performing exercises from a workout regimine his trainer at EXOS has been posting. Planning to play baseball at Hendrix College, Lemke said it is necessary that he stays fit and uses the workout videos he posts to his Instagram story to mimic the atmosphere EXOS provided. 

“It definitely feels more like my normal. I would go [to EXOS] four or five times a week and I do [the exercises] like three to four times a week right now. It lets me maintain my schedule,” Lemke said. “Another thing with the workouts is if I do all of [my trainer’s] at-home quarantine workouts, he’ll give me his Xbox Live gamer tag, so that kind of motivates me.”

Netflix party is another way students have stayed in contact when indulging in pop culture. The app allows for a group of people to simultaneously watch the same show and chat in a sidebar. Sophomore Olivia Ryan regularly uses Netflix Party with her friend group and said they’ll typically watch horror movies together. Ryan said a recent movie the group watched was “The Platform.”

“It’s really fun to have a jump scare and everyone reacts,” Ryan said. “[We had] fun watching it together.”

One of the drawbacks, Ryan said, is she has yet to figure out how to get Netflix Party to work on the school-issued laptops, but advises those who are interested in Netflix Party to watch it on a computer if they can. 

When unable to bear being cooped in her house any longer, senior Hailey Burgess said she has taken to doing car circles with her friends. Burgess said they saw the idea on TikTok.

“I just saw people on TikTok doing it and other places. I don’t really know who first had the idea of doing it, but I guess we all just kind of thought it would be fun,” Burgess said.

Abiding by the social distancing guidelines, Burgess said they each park six feet apart and just enjoy each other’s company in the outdoors. 

“I don’t really text my friends so much, because nothing is really happening,” Burgess said. “When we actually get to see each other, even if we’re not sitting right next to each other, we’re able to hang out semi-normally. We’ve been doing it once a week and it’s just been good to keep in touch with each other and check in on each other.”

In light of the COVID-19 outbreak, the BVNW community has found workarounds to continue to communicate with their peers. Although it is uncertain when we’ll be in the clear again, students and staff have the tools at their disposal to socialize and stay in touch for the time being.

Video by Sydney Stremming and graphics by Bella Rinne. 

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