March 13, 2020: the last day of in-person school before COVID-19 shut everything down. School just ended, and the thousands of Pinnacle High School students left class for Spring Break. Many of them laughed and cracked jokes about a novel virus. Unknown to them, this virus spread to some of them over the next year and upended many of their extracurricular activities and basic school life.
Starting with the daily classroom life, which moved to online due to COVID-19, to a modified Google Classroom-based curriculum. The quick turnaround to online started an issue with the Google Classroom system and everyone’s different learning types.
“For me, it was quite difficult in some classes because I am more of a hands-on person, and I like to get explained the content step-by-step and I couldn’t really do that online because the teachers would give us the assignments on Google Classroom,” said junior Allison Penaloza.
School as Pinnacle students always knew it suddenly looked very different. The online system adopted in March-May 2020 through Google Classroom and consisted of fill-in-the-blanks work and student-directed research. Teachers assigned tests through Google Forms, although Paradise Valley School District canceled all end-of-year finals. Arizona also canceled AZMerit testing for sophomores.
Teachers also adjusted to the online structure, and questions of what to do with the rest of the curriculum proved a challenge.
“We went through as teachers and decided on what was the need-to-knows for our kids that year,” said Algebra 1-2 teacher Mrs. Etchey.
Etchey explained that math teachers decided to drop the last chapter of their scheduled curriculum. Since the district directed all 3rd quarter grades to remain for the semester unless a student opted to work to improve their grade, the math teachers decided to give extra credit if the students completed lessons from videos that the teachers prepared, which bumped a student’s grade up 10 percent if they completed all 17 assignments.
“And we had to decide, is it worth the fight to us?” said Etchey. “Like, do we care that much about their grades being inflated, or do we care about [students] seeing the material, being exposed to it, learning? And at the end of the day, we’re like, ‘Grades? Who cares?’”
According to Mrs. Etchey, math teachers chose to prioritize exposing students to the material so they understand it when they learn the material again in future math classes.
Another challenge in Spring 2002 came in the form of AP testing. Current junior Hailey Schiff took the AP European History test and remembers a wide range of issues.
“I studied an hour each day before the [May] exam,” said Schiff. “I started studying in March.”
The College Board allowed students one hour for the test and the students took only one written response portion of the test.
“I don’t feel the test was fair since we only had one category usually there’s supposed to be three,” Schiff said. “I personally wasn’t good at that category. I will not be taking another AP course in my life, at the moment, it was so hard.”
When Paradise Valley Unified School District canceled school, many extracurricular activities went into limbo during the last few weeks of March, including drama. The Pinnacle Theater Company (PTC) initially postponed the annual dinner theater production scheduled in Spring of 2020, featuring the play Trouble at the Talent Show. Though PTC intended to bring the production back in Fall 2020, due to limitations placed on the company resulting from the continuation of the virus spread, PTC Director Mrs. Caroll-Jackson made the tough decision to cancel it.
Another extracurricular activity, Pinnacle choirs also fell to the unfortunate situation of this pandemic. The choirs continued preparing for their end-of-the-year concert in 2020. But ultimately the district canceled the POPs concert and their scheduled Disneyland tour. Additionally, the district called off auditions for the 2020-2021 school year. The unprecedented closures added difficulties.
“The singers have not heard each other since March,” said PHS choir director Dr. St. Claire.
Online latency speeds, also known as lag, vary for everyone, so many choir performers in the online modality turned their microphones off, resulting in members not able to hear each other.
“I [had] everything loaded online and they [could] practice on their own online, but yeah, as a group, we were not able to hear each other,” said St. Claire. “They were practicing with headphones on and it’s basically if you were to close everybody into a soundproof cubicle and tell them all to sing together and sing at the same time and, you know, pretend like they hear the other parts.”
What began as an extended Spring Break on March 13, 2020, became a year of unprecedented learning in a school environment most never imagined possible. Academic and extracurricular programs alike suffered well beyond the brief interruption most initially thought the Coronavirus demanded. The 2020-2021 school year faced many challenges and creative adaptations, and students and staff seem to all hope for a return to a more traditional year in 2021-22.