The Quarantine Tales of a Graduating Senior

By Mikayla Gilmer, Secondary English Education Major & English Department Social Media Intern

College Undergraduates,

Last week I received an email from the University Registrar and Provost congratulating me on the approval of my graduation for May 2020. As a college freshman I watched a Buzzfeed in preparation for my years to come. The video was titled “College: Freshman Year Vs. Senior Year” and was uploaded September 11th, 2014. The video compares a student’s perspective on dating, class preparation, diet, Friday nights, etc. The video ends with both the freshman and senior at the end of their year saying the same thing: “I never want to leave”.

Today is the last day of classes and the end of my undergraduate career. To incoming freshman, current freshman, sophomores, and juniors—If I could just offer a bit of advice: don’t take a single thing for granted. Going to class might seem like a drag, but this is the last time you will get to experience education in a classroom setting. Hogan Dining Hall is actually a gem (you might only realize this once you move off campus and have to meal plan). And as a reminder, The Power Center is included in tuition. After this you’ll have to pay for gym services.

This is the time to join a club/organization, live on campus, wave to your friends on A-walk, make mistakes…Your undergrad is your time to do it, so make it happen!

 

To the next social media intern,

I am excited to see what you do with the accounts! Here are some pieces of advice that might help:

  • Make a Calendar for Yourself: Color coordinate twitter/Instagram posts to stay on track
  • Use Canva: Canva is an easy template designing source I used to make all of the Instagram posts. Use this free service to your advantage!
  • Get Inspiration: Follow as many College Department pages as you can and get inspiration from them. Study how they use color schemes and templates to their advantage.

 

Congratulations graduates!

The Mind is a Beautiful Thing.

Our minds are imaginative, powerful and possess problem-solving prowess that allows our bodies to function at such high levels of complexity. Even with these as functioning characteristics of the human mind, we grapple at the emotions that have lasting effects on our lives. COVID-19 has been a stressful time for students, parents, children- essentially everyone. Coping with stress, anxiety, depression, and any other mental health concern is no small feat. The additive stress of susceptibility to disease, social distancing and online learning may have caused a decrease in your overall mental health or for a loved one. Although this is an unprecedented time in which the Corona Virus has been interrupting the lives of everyone, ways in which to tend to the overarching umbrella of mental health struggles can include the following:

  • Take breaks from watching, reading, or listening to news stories
    • Repeatedly hearing about the pandemic can be unhealthy for daily consumption
  • Take care of your body
    • Meditation, deep breathing exercises, physical activity, enjoying more sleep and eating well-balanced meals can help keep your physical being be at ease
  • Unwind
    • Try out a new hobby or take time to enjoy activities you like to do
  • Stay connected
    • If you’re struggling during this time chances are someone else too, so reach out to friends and family.
  • Develop a daily routine if that combats lethargic behavior
    • Having a set schedule can help you feel productive
  • Tap into your emotions
    • It is okay to feel sad some days. Allow yourself to address how you feel.

As beautiful and powerful as the mind can be, there are some things we have no control over that affect our mental state, including unforeseen circumstances. Some days may be harder than others to deal with when it comes to mental health, but that is okay. As a student, the pressure to perform in school and deal with mental health can be cumbersome. However, there are many outlets and support systems that can include friends, family and even professors. The importance of mental health can simply be to take things one day at a time.  

Quarantine Reflection

By: Nayelle Williams, Secondary English Education Major

I remember walking into McKeesport Area High School on January 6, 2020 anxious, determined and excited. My mind and heart was open for the new opportunity that awaited me. I was fulfilling my desire to be a lifelong learner and practice through experience. On March 13, 2020 I left the building as usual. I packed up my belongings and took some work to complete over the long, four-day weekend. Who knew that would be the last time I would walk through those doors, learn from Mrs. Metz’s instruction and physically teach and interact with my students? The COVID-19 pandemic has my emotions in a whirlwind. I am disheartened that I cannot do what I love. Since my school cannot operate on a digital or remote learning framework, my involvement has been limited. The only communication I have with my students is through email, Remind or while I am working at Giant Eagle. Our norm has been disrupted; however, I am still wondering if that is a good or bad thing? Although this is a global travesty filled with chaos, confusion and uncertainty, this state of emergency has allowed educators to get the recognition they deserve. On one hand, I see an influx of parents who find homeschooling challenging and tough. Many parents are vocalizing their admiration and appreciation for teachers who wear many hats on a daily basis. On the other hand, this pandemic is forcing education to be reevaluated on a district, state and national level. Educational equity and safety concerns are top priority. Moreover, we are seeing how critical technology is in education. As well as, teacher instruction and creativity without the policing of standardized testing.

As a result of not being able to teach, I have been assigned and challenged to conduct some personal, professional development. I have navigated through some educational websites that have relevant topics pertaining to COVID-19 and education. Here are some articles and my reflections or responses:

  • Innovative Ways to Make Coronavirus a Teachable Moment, Sarah Gosner— https://www.edutopia.org/article/innovative-ways-make-coronavirus-teachable-moment
    • Prior to this pandemic, my unit plan centered on the subject or theme of Responding to Change. Ironically, these current events are befitting for this unit and I was thinking about some lessons that I could make from this drastic, global change. I had considered various journal prompts where I would have students write their thoughts about the pandemic and how they responded to this change—both good and bad.
    • This article aligned with some of my own lesson plans and ideas that I had for how to integrate the coronavirus into the classroom. I liked the idea of journaling and allowing students to share their stories about their time in the pandemic. This provides them a platform to speak their truth. Additionally, this article gave some suggestions on how to create video journals or podcasts where students’ voices can be heard.
    • In my grad courses, we conducted a lesson on interdisciplinary learning and its effectiveness. I think this article provided some creative ways to get other subjects involved and working collaboratively. For instance, the journaling activity that can be used in an English classroom can also be integrated and used in a historical context for social studies.
  • A Trauma-Informed Approach to Teaching Through the Coronavirus, Teaching Tolerance Staff—https://www.tolerance.org/magazine/a-trauma-informed-approach-to-teaching-through-coronavirus
    • I absolutely loved this article and the abundant information it had. The text was rooted in a culturally responsive lens. It was apparent that the needs of the students were prioritized academically, emotionally, mentally, physically and socially.
    • I think the overarching concept of this article is to be cognizant that a child has more to their lives than schoolwork. Many students are not adjusting to this change well. As educators, we need to be mindful that our students need us. We are there to advocate, educate, inspire, and offer a sense of security. Most importantly, we need to be approachable, adaptable and understanding.

The Importance of Consistency in Online Learning

Sean Stewart

As we navigate this tumultuous time in our history, many important aspects of learning have come to light. One of these things, which I had not considered when starting the transition to online learning/instruction, is the importance of consistency.

Schools have tried a multitude of strategies for continuing instruction for their students. My student-teaching placement, Central Catholic, has opted for a daily assignment system with the deadline for assignments being the normal end of the school day. On the other hand, my high school alma mater, Chaminade Julienne in Dayton, Ohio, had opted to leave the frequency up to the teachers. There are pros and cons to both but, ultimately, these online instruction plans live and die by the amount of consistency that they offer students.

Central Catholic’s system is extremely consistent, with set dates and deadlines for both teachers and students. This allows everyone to be on the same page and know ahead of time what is expected of them. Students are expected to complete their assignments as both assessment and a form of “check-in” with teachers. If a student does not submit assignments for a couple days, a teacher knows to reach out and see what is going on. This system also provides stability for the students. Immediately, the issue with online learning is student efficacy and motivation. Getting students to wake up early and do schoolwork when they don’t physically have to go is difficult. The expectations that Central has laid out with their online instruction system allows the teachers and students to continue their work in as consistent a manner as possible.

My high school alma mater, Chaminade Julienne (CJ), has taken a different approach. When they started going online, the requirements were very loose and inconsistent. Students were told to check Google Classroom daily, but not given any kind of deadline or requirement. Teachers would post assignments and set deadlines individually and students would be expected to complete the work. The issue is that this site gives the students no solid foundation for their learning. There is no expectation or example being set to check Google Classroom consistently and, therefore, the system experienced some issues. Eventually, CJ recognized these issues and changed their system. Now, students are required to check in with teachers twice a week through email. While this is not as rigorous of a deadline as Central, it does provide the students and teachers with a standard that they need to meet. 

Consistency in this inconsistent time is of the utmost importance for young learners. By making sure that standards and expectations are set, we as educators are able to raise student efficacy and ensure that they are still growing as learners.

COVID-19 Complications

Gina Mastrangelo

Like everyone else, I’ve spent the past month adjusting to online learning, one of the many changes the coronavirus has caused. When I signed up for my internship this semester, I certainly did not expect a global pandemic to result in its cancellation. As some of you may know, I interned as the Social Media and Marketing Coordinator for Duquesne’s annual Summer Creative Writing Camp. I was happy to see that so many students were interested in the camp, as it’s nice to see young high schoolers passionate about storytelling and creative writing. I’m saddened that the event will not be held this year, but I am happy for the experience I gained during my short time on the job.

This time is especially challenging as a college senior and, although I didn’t expect to spend my last semester at Duquesne inside of my home, I have been trying to see the positives in an otherwise horrible situation. This quarantine has given me time to prepare for my future after college, something my busy scheduled prevented me from thinking too much about beforehand. With more time on my hands, I’ve begun to consider all of my options for life after I complete my undergraduate degree. Although the thought of graduating right now is undoubtedly daunting, specifically because we don’t know what the repercussions of the pandemic will be, I am excited to see what the future holds for me.

Despite its abrupt conclusion, I am so thankful for what my past three years at Duquesne have brought to me. My time in college has changed my life and completely transformed who I am as a student. I am so grateful to have been able to learn so much not only in my classes, but about who I am as a person, during my time in college. Although I may have missed out on the end of my senior year, I will never lose the memories I made at Duquesne, and I’m happy to have had such an unforgettable college experience.

End of the road

By Elsa Buehler

Today, I began the last project that I will complete for my internship: a research guide on Malcolm X. I have so enjoyed learning about a diverse group of great thinkers while creating research guides for Gumberg Library’s website. I was very pleased to be able to continue this work, as normal, from the comfort of my home! Today was bittersweet.

I’m sure we all got a lot more than the learning experience we bargained for when applying for our respective internships. As a (hopeful) future school librarian, I have been really grateful to learn how to maneuver online learning platforms. The biggest adjustment was learning Zoom as a student (and later using it to interact with friends and family!), but I’ve even learned new functions on Blackboard and Outlook, platforms I already used.

What’s more is that I’ve learned what kinds of online resources institutions can provide during this time of working from home—resources helping people reconcile having to work and live in the same space. I’ve briefly discussed the Gumberg Library as a specific example of Duquesne University’s efforts to support and enrich online learning. I think that our librarians have done some really great work in this vein. From my point of view, I’ve watched as my supervisor, Ted Bergfelt, has edited research guides to be more helpful to at-home learners, created new guides detailing Gumberg’s online resources, and even created new guides to accompany specific courses. Like him, all guides I’ve made since mid-March make a far greater effort to provide online resources. I’ve also retroactively done this for past guides I have created. I hope they can be helpful to my peers: not only in providing direct access to specific resources, but also in showing how one might approach remote academic research.

As my peers and I wrap up our internship work and our school year, I thank the individuals (professors, librarians, administrative staff, etc) behind our online transition. Although you’re working from home, you’re not taking a load off. In fact, I suspect that many of you are putting in more hours than you would during a typical school year. Thank you for dedicating yourselves to providing an education for us that is as close to normal as humanly possible. Your efforts have not gone unnoticed or unappreciated. Thank you and be well.

 

All my best to you,
Elsa

 

Make Today that Someday

Author: Emily Francesca DeGenova, Senior HMS

The moment we have all been waiting for is finally here, the “I’ll get to it later” moment. Being quarantined for over a month now has left us with an endless amount of time to get the things done in your life you constantly convince yourself you don’t have time for. Take this time to focus on those neglected tasks to stay motivated, positive, and productive. Here are a list of the things I have been doing during this Coronacation, and I hope you find them helpful as well.

  • Start a morning routine.
    • Turn on some peppy, happy music, swap out your pjs for some cozy sweats, and make yourself a killer breakfast to feel ready to tackle yet another productive day at home!
  • Eat Right!
    • Do some research and find out what foods work best for your lifestyle, and dive into learning some new recipes (or maybe even ask your mom to teach you how to make that favorite dish of hers!)
  • Clean out your belongings.
    • Personally, I watched the Netflix original series Tidying up with Marie Kondo and followed her simple tactic of only keeping belongings that bring a sense of Joy into your life. Not only did this help me to declutter, but it also brought me a sense of appreciation for everything I own. 
  • Renovate your house.
    • Pick up a paint brush, knock down that wall, or move around your furniture/décor pieces to give your space new life.
  • Start a garden!
    • Skip gearing up with masks and gloves to head out to the grocery store, and grow some fresh veggies right in your backyard!
  • Build a personal website.
    • This is such a great way to add a sense of fulfillment to your daily routine. I built myself an e-Portfolio and it is honestly such a self-esteem booster realizing how much productive work I have completed thus far in my educational and professional career.
  • Workout outside!
    • Get some vitamin D and go for a run or walk your dog around the neighborhood!
  • Start a nightly routine.
    • I cannot stress this enough how important it is to get your mind, body, and soul ready for bed
      • Mind:
        • Write down things you want to do tomorrow so you don’t overthink about them at night!
        • Text your friends goodnight and tell your parents sweet dreams, so you have no distractions as you prepare for bed. 
        • Read a chapter of your favorite book.
      • Body:
        • Drink some tea with chamomile!
        • Stretch before bed to relax your body.
      • Soul:
        • Turn on an oil diffuser with lavender and pray or meditate.

I hope these ideas spark some motivation to stay positive and productive during this time – because today is better than someday.

Looking on the Bright Side

Happy Earth Day! 

This morning, I got up early and designed of one of my favorite Quark infographics that I have put out so far, “How to Celebrate Earth Day in Quarantine.” I plan to do most (if not all) of these things today, but I wanted to write my final blog post on how designing graphics has been a pivotal part of transitioning my life onto an online platform.

Using Canva and other digital design platforms has given me something to do that has required a lot of creative thinking and outreach on my part. The last few designs I have made for The Quark have been low-pressure, allowing me to be as creative as I want and taking risks with colors, graphics, and overall design.

I have even gotten to use these skills for one of my English classes (Dr. Wright, if you’re reading this, thank you for the great assignment!). This is the first design I have made using a traditional infographic format, and I am so happy with how it turned out. I am already thinking about how I am going to use infographics next semester when I repeat this internship.

One of the more exciting things that has happened to me over the Quarantine was being elected the new Social Media Chairperson for my Mock Trial team. I have had a vision of what I wanted our Instagram to look like for a while, and now I can finally bring that vision to life with spotlight posts. I even made a bingo sheet which has been fun to watch my teammates fill out.

As I have stated in my past couple of blog posts, keeping up with my responsibilities during Quarantine has not been easy, however, challenging a lot of it into beautiful designs that I can share with others makes it much more enjoyable.

Student Teaching….Online

Sean Stewart

The largest impact that the COVID-19 pandemic has had is in the forced quarantine for much of the country. We all know it has caused the closing of non-essential businesses and the suspension of all major sports events, but it has also taken a large toll on the educators and students of America.

Online learning is never the best option for learning, despite the convenience factor. It is just a fact that learning is more effective when provided in a face to face manner. With state governments closing down schools for weeks at a time, this has caused many teachers to scramble to adapt their traditional lessons to an online format.

This has also been true for student teachers, who have found themselves thrown off the metaphorical horse just as they were starting to get the hang of it. Being one of these student teachers, I decided I wanted to talk about my experience of teaching high schoolers online.

My school has one-to-one iPad use for all students, so online learning is not an issue. This is not the case, though, for many districts around the country. I am very fortunate to be able to continue instruction online. However, what is the state of this online instruction?

It is honestly more assigning work and answering emails than actual lecture. The issue is that with high school, it is very difficult to get 20ish fifteen-year-olds into one zoom meeting and trust them to be able to control themselves. This means that I have leaned heavily on assigning paragraph responses and comprehension questions. My school has required that an assignment is posted for the students everyday. With each student getting 8 assignments per day, that limits the length and involvement my assignments can be. In general, the students are getting more work and doing less analysis and discussion, something essential to an English class curriculum.

I believe this has opened many people’s eyes when it comes to online learning, including districts across the country. The sooner we get back to in-person learning, the better. 

2020 Pandemic Thoughts

By: Nayelle Williams, Secondary English Education Major

This past month has been an unprecedented time filled with uncertainty. I have many thoughts and feelings surrounding this pandemic. Firstly, I am disheartened that my student teaching experience has come to a halt. Since schools have been closed, I have not been able to teach in the physical classroom—doing what I love. I truly miss my students and their enthusiasm about life and learning. Although my teaching experience has been cut short, I can honestly say that I learned so much from my cooperating teacher and students alike. I will cherish the time I had with them and look forward to using their influence in my future instruction and work as an educator.

Secondly, this pandemic has opened my eyes to the social justice issues surrounding education. For instance, I know that technology in the classroom has pros and cons. While it is essential and effective during this pandemic, it also has been a burden for students who do not have access to it at home. Blatantly, it has made the virtual classroom difficult because these students cannot attend Zoom meetings or submit their assignments online. Unfortunately, my host school is located in an area where many students do not have access to technology in their homes. However, my school has found innovative ways to ensure that students are still able to access their work. For instance, they have printed copies of work packets for families to physically pick up at the school. And, they have made the assignments available online. I admire their effort to adapt and adjust accordingly, meeting the needs of the students they serve. On a similar note, many students rely on the school to be their “home” away from home—a safe environment where they can be fed academically and physically. Without schools being open, many students are missing nutritious meals. I commend the local schools and restaurants that are opening their doors and still providing meals for families in need.

Lastly, this pandemic has forced me to slow down and pay more attention to the things that matter. Although I knew that life is short and change is inevitable, I am seeing it firsthand. I am learning to adjust to my new normal and not be consumed by negativity. I am using this time to better myself and take time to rest. I am not taking life for granted. And even though it may be hard, I urge you to do the same.