Clubs and activities are still up and running at Lexington High School despite the many obstacles created by COVID-19. Virtual Zoom sessions now replace in-person meetings, and clubs have modified their formats to thrive in a remote environment.
For clubs like Model United Nations, the layout of a typical meeting is very similar to that of the past.
“I was one of the new Model UN people last year and we did essentially the same thing, but now it’s in a breakout room setting,” Anjali Agarwal, a sophomore and member of Model UN, said.
While meetings are relatively similar, Model UN conferences that now take place virtually present a new set of challenges in trying to adapt to the online setting.
“There are a bunch of different softwares you can use for conferences and testing them out is pretty difficult,” Agarwal said.
Similarly, the debate club experienced significant changes to the normal tournament structure.
In Lincoln-Douglas debate, debaters are required to talk at a faster speed than normal, which can be difficult to do virtually due to poor connection or technological issues.
“A common practice is recording your speeches since there are often audio speeches so that in case Wi-Fi goes out you can send an audio recording,” Robin Pan, a junior and Lincoln-Douglas debater, said.
Pan also noted logistical issues accompanying virtual tournaments, such as notifying debaters of their schedule for the day and who they will be debating. A solution has been to use the online platform Tabroom, a software that helps coordinate and lead debate tournaments.
Another key difference between clubs meeting in-person versus remotely is the lack of social and emotional support the latter provides. Students would look toward club meetings as an opportunity to socialize and make friends, which is now more challenging.
“I’m very much reliant on my friends, my support system while debating. It feels like I can’t bond with them like I used to – I can’t go grab lunch with them and such things. In LD debate you also debate alone, so I’m basically alone the entire day and screaming words to the screen,” Pan said.
In response, club leaders have taken steps to enhance the social and emotional support new members receive, and to make the online environment more comfortable.
Model UN has created a program where students have the opportunity to learn from and form further connections with their peers.
“Every week we have to do an activity where we teach the new Lex MUN kids something. They split us up into breakout rooms, and the buddies instruct the people who are new to Model UN on how to do specific things,” Agarwal said.
As for debate, prior to the pandemic, schools had a “home base” during tournaments, which was a place where students could meet with their teammates and discuss how their rounds went, share strategies, and much more. Now, Sheryl Kaczmarek, the debate coach, set up a full-day Zoom room as a substitute for the home base.
“The Zoom room is equivalent to community bonding… It’s our equivalent of how you put backpacks and jackets on a table at a competition,” Pan said.
Although going remote certainly presented many challenges, club members have recognized some benefits as well.
“Since we don’t need to hire buses every weekend and get flight tickets, we have saved a lot of money so we have been able to go to many more tournaments, as we have hired a lot more judges. Also, [since] you don’t have to pay for travel expenses, more people have been attending debate tournaments which is great for low income and smaller schools,” Pan said.
Despite all the difficulties they faced due to a lack of in-person interaction, clubs have succeeded in creating effective solutions to offer opportunities for students.