MHS arts meeting COVID-19 challenges

CONTRIBUTED PHOTOS Orchestra is among the safest of current extracurricular activities, with students capable of playing instruments with masks on while emitting less bioaerosols than other activities.

After in-person learning resumed last week, Marshalltown High School’s arts departments continue to adjust to unique challenges under hybrid learning.

Beyond meeting safety guidelines to reduce the spread of COVID-19, arts teachers say they have faced issues regarding the mental health and motivation of their students.

“Their plates are very heavy,” Jocelyn Frohwein, Marshalltown High School Drama teacher and speech director said. “They’ve got family members that are sick. They themselves are getting sick. A lot of my students are working for their families. Either their families’ wages got cut or a parent was dismissed or their job no longer exists. That takes priority.”

Band, choir and drama groups have close communities teachers said, making it harder to foster the same feeling of family when students are split up each day under the hybrid learning model. Lack of performances have also resulted in less motivation as students have no concerts to prepare for.

Marshalltown High School Director of Vocal Music Amy Ose said despite various challenges she is continually amazed at how students have adapted throughout the semester.

Marshalltown High School students participate in a socially distanced jazz band practice after hybrid learning resumed last week.

“I could see on their faces and from talking to different students, that there was a little bit of a depression at the beginning of the year,” Ose said. “In the last month I’ve started to see some of their normal personalities coming out of them.”

After the first choir rehearsal back from online learning and Thanksgiving break, Ose said her heart was happy.

“We made music together and it finally felt more normal,” Ose said. “We are still making music at Marshalltown High School. It just looks different.”

Ose is asked frequently why sports have been allowed to continue, but music and drama performances have been canceled.

“What is slowing us down right now is that the bioaerosols in theatrical speaking or when you’re singing or playing an instrument are much higher than when you’re breathing heavily,” Ose said.

Choir and band rehearsals last no longer than 30 minutes to reduce the emission of bioaerosols, tiny particles released from the body when breathing or talking which can carry the COVID-19 virus.

Drama classes have shifted away from performing, focusing on readings and analysis as facial expression is masked in-person. District and state speech competitions have moved completely online, with practices held virtually or in the privacy of someone’s home.

Because different students are in the building on different days under the hybrid learning model, the arrangement of voices and instruments has been unbalanced in some groups.

“Sometimes we have the right amount of instruments where when we play together it sounds like an actual orchestra,” Maggie Stagner, Marshalltown Community School District director of orchestras said. “But there’s times when we don’t have everyone there or we don’t have enough of a certain instrument in a certain group, so we have to give them special music that allows them to play together.”

Marshalltown High School Associate Band Director Christian Loaiza was in his first year of teaching when COVID-19 forced schools to close last March but says every educator and student struggled when COVID-19 initially hit.

“Everything was so new, and nobody really knew how to react or what the solution was,” Loaiza said. “But once we were able to feel out how the year was going to look like during COVID, the students started to react a lot better to that.”


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