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  • Jaclyn Steenstra

COVID-19 Causes Humanities Program to Adjust

Allie Spalt, a new student and freshman at Eastern Christian High School, walks into room 305 at the beginning of third block on the first day of school. She sees Mr. Dykstra in the front of the room and sits down to a quiet class. “[The silence] was really concerning because I came from a school where everybody would shout across the room and we would get in trouble for being aloud,” she says.


The class goes over the rules and jumps into working on their first research paper. She becomes less worried as Mr. Dykstra explains that they will be incorporating a Christian worldview into the class’s curriculum. “I didn’t come from a religious school,” she says, “so hearing that we were going to do a lot with the Bible, I realized I have to pay more attention because I’m not as familiar with the text.”


Sophomore English Humanities students have an outdoor lesson in the clearing behind the high school.

Sophomore Rebecca Eshuis walks into room 304 for third block at the same time and instantly remembers the class bond she shared with her classmates last year. She sees her new teacher, Ms. Roniet, and knows that despite the awkwardness of wearing a mask and abiding by new school rules, she’s going to enjoy this class very much. “The setup [Ms. Roniet] had just seemed very organized, and she knew what she was doing, even if it wasn’t what she wanted to do,” she later explained. She settles in and can’t wait to make more memories with her returning and new classmates.


Junior Rachel Post comes to school on the first day and goes directly to her first block class. She’s used to having Humanities in the afternoon, but is ready to take on the challenge of having it in the morning. “The first thing I saw were two new students, which was really nice, and then Mrs. Okma, whom I’ve never had before,” she says. “She struck me as very sweet and very kind.” The class talks about these changes and how the students should respond to them and she was encouraged by the welcoming atmosphere.


James Blanco, a senior, online student, and returnee to the program, logs into class at 8:10, instantly feeling the differences of online learning. He’s apprehensive about being only one of three online students, but quickly adjusts. “The first day I had history with Mr. U, who eloquently explained how the year would run, breaking the block into even sections of learning, work, and discussions,” he shares. He knows that he will be able to learn just as much at home as the students who are in the physical classroom, but he adds, “I miss having both teachers for history and literature in one classroom to make immediate connections to the topics we are learning about.”


All of these students are ready to take on the Humanities Program at Eastern Christian High School this year, despite its changes, mainly due to COVID-19.


The Humanities Program at Eastern Christian High School has shifted things around this year, affecting both the program’s students and teachers. The class has been turned into two separate classes with one teacher in the room instead of two.


Teachers are trying to keep the Humanities Program as normal as they can despite the few changes.


Humanities is “anything that humans have done, made, created, related to them, helping students study what it means to be a human at a high academic level in preparation for their ongoing academic careers,” says Ms. Rebekah Sankey, senior English Humanities teacher.

School is looking a lot different this year due to COVID-19 precautions, and classes, such as Humanities, have been affected by that.


From the surface, there is only one major difference, and that is how the interconnected history and English classes have been split into A and B days. Previously, both of these subjects’ teachers were in the same room, one teaching, the other off to the side, ready to jump in and make connections to their specific subjects and offer insight from another professional perspective. This aspect of connecting, not only history and English, but all of the subjects, including music, art, philosophy, and science, is weakened in the separation. Ms. Sankey also adds that “You lose the in-the-moment connection of the two voices, and recognizing that we’ve lost that, we’re having to think about ways to capture that again.” Not having these connections is the biggest loss to the program, but the Humanities teachers and administrators are constantly finding new ways to make it work as smoothly as possible.


Now that there is only one teacher in the room each day, the class is on a new schedule. On one day, two grades will have history, while the other two have English. Then on the next day, it flips. Mr. Ryan Dykstra, freshmen and sophomore English Humanities teacher says, “The Humanities Program is still going to maintain much of its academic integrity and much of its goals. I don’t think, however, that it is going to be as seamless or as natural as prior.” The two teachers working together for each grade are focusing more on communicating as much as possible in order to keep all of the subjects interconnected for the students. In response to if student learning might be affected, Mr. Dykstra also states that “If the individual has put up a barrier between history and literature, then yes, it certainly has.” But teachers are working hard to make learning as natural as possible.


These changes are not all harmful to the program. In fact, Ms. Marchelle Roniet, freshmen and sophomore history Humanities teacher says that the program “is simply different. There is more time to explore areas that could be fun to do. For example, perhaps time can be available for exploring sports in Ancient Greece and Ancient Rome or more time for films.” The curriculum that is being taught has not been changed, only shifted to be fit for one teacher. Ms. Sankey believes that this is not hindering students and we should look at it as only making an adjustment, not a complete change.


These restrictions to the program and the budget cuts made this year involving teachers are wholly put on the COVID-19 pandemic. Mr. James Uitermarkt, history Humanities teacher for juniors and seniors, adds that having one teacher in the room at a time could help save teachers’ jobs. In response to the program being affected by COVID-19, Mr. Dykstra comments that there has been no allusion to keeping these adjustments permanently and they have only been made to accommodate for the new restrictions.


On another note, Mr. Uitermarkt shared that he has been seeing a rise of interest in the higher level classes. “I think our goal, quite honestly, is to try to get more of our students in our Humanities Program and in our honor classes, and this year we’re seeing an increase.”


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