How Uni Students are staying connected during an Everlasting Pandemic

As Uni’s community nears its 11 month quarantine milestone amid the global pandemic, Uni students have had to find new and unique ways to help themselves, their friends, and their peers stay connected as much as possible. 

Dating back to the end of spring break last school year, many options students used to connect in-person have been revoked because of safety concerns and quarantine regulations. However, now well into Uni’s first official year with preparations for battling the difficulties of self-isolation, members of Uni’s community have found ways to still connect despite the circumstances.

Student Council (StudCo) and each class’s respective representatives have taken on an important role in keeping their classes connected online, finding innovative and interesting events to give students a wide variety of opportunities. Typically, StudCo would be given many opportunities to do events in-person, but now with online learning, those circumstances have changed.

Danbi Choi, senior and Student Body President, talks about the role of StudCo as a whole during quarantine.

“StudCo has always been really about enhancing the student body experience and providing events and opportunities for students to bond together and heighten school spirit. We still aim to do that, but it’s a lot harder this year because online events are less appealing and we have to figure out ways to transition what used to be our typical events to online,” Choi says. “Our main goal is obviously to try and build Uni’s community life and bond as a community… so I think that we’ve really just been working on trying to provide opportunities so that students can talk to each other and get to know each other in some way.”

Lili Tiouririne, Sophomore Class President, also speaks on the role of her class reps helping the Sophomore Class stay together. 

“I think it’s a really important role, and I’m not going to lie, it’s a pretty hard job because it’s definitely a lot different than if we were in person. If we were in person, we would be planning dances, [like] we’d end up going ice skating in the winter. Things like that,” Tiouririne says. “I feel like now we have to work a lot harder to figure out how to connect our class because playing the same game on zoom every month can only go so far.”

StudCo and each class’s representatives have already succeeded in providing multiple opportunities for students to connect. 

Many classes and students at Uni use Discord, a digital messaging platform, and have their own Discord servers outside of Uni to simply talk, communicate, and connect. Rithika Patnam, Junior Class President, speaks on the role of the non-Uni affiliated Junior Class Discord server and the chances the server gives for herself and her classmates. 

“I was surprised. I honestly didn’t think that people would use [the Discord server] as much as they do, and I think it’s the only social media platform that you can literally sit in a voice call or whatever and random people will join,” Patnam mentions. 

“I’ve only started using Discord so recently. At the beginning, I was also kind of judgemental of it. I was like ‘this is just for gamers’ or whatever, and then I use it and I realize all the features and just being able to sit in a voice call… it’s a more relaxed environment. You don’t have to show your camera. You’re just sitting there talking.

“When we made the discord, the intention was to host these Wednesday Homework Meetings which never really happened, but it’s okay because people would do it every single day anyway just in the study call or whatever… as long as people had that resource,” she continues.

“One time we had like 17 people in the call, and these are people who are from distinct friend groups. You would never really catch them talking to each other one on one, but because you are in a group, you can talk to them. That’s why that’s so important. I think it’s the closest thing to real school,” Patnam adds.

Choi, Tiouririne, and Patnam all say that StudCo reps have planned events online in order to help their classmates connect with each other and different members of Uni’s student body.

Choi says that StudCo had done a Uni Trivia Night earlier on in the year as well as a Movie Night in which students watched the film Hunger Games right before the start of Winter Break.

“Uni trivia was actually pretty successful. I think we actually had maybe over 100 Uni students come – maybe 120 – and I was super surprised honestly… a lot of teams showed up,” Choi remembers. “One of the biggest barriers of going online and planning events online is how could you get someone excited for something online that is usually in-person? So I feel one of the biggest obstacles is getting people to come, but when people come, they actually end up having fun.” 

The movie night ended up being successful as well. StudCo plans to do more in the near future too in regards to school-events, including a StudCo Basketball Night with the Boys and Girls High School Basketball Teams and assorted Spirit Week-related activities to still give some feel of the normal experience at this time of year.

Tiouririne says that, like Choi, she was surprised at the success of some of her events and recalls a fun event that herself and the other Sophomore class reps held for her classmates.

“I think they’ve been going pretty well. We were actually really surprised at our first turnout because I feel like in our heads we were like ‘Everyones in quarantine, it’s a friday night, they’re probably just going to go watch Netflix by themselves,’ but we ended up having a surprising turnout, so I personally think they’re going well,” Tiouririne notes.

Tiouririne also adds a few extra details about the Sophomore class’s first event: “Our first event was a two-part game night… The main room was there just for people to chill and talk if they didnt feel like playing games. Basically we had the main room and two breakout rooms…. one breakout room was playing Online Mafia and the other was [playing] I would say overall it was pretty successful and it was a lot of fun… and we all thought it was a pretty big hit.”

For the Junior class, Patnam speaks on the activities she and the other class reps have given to the Juniors throughout the year.

“So at the very beginning of the year – maybe the first week of school – we did a Class Trivia/Kahoot thing and that was more traditional, online-event type where we all just got on Zoom… we made a Kahoot where people filled out a form prior to [the event] giving fun facts about themselves, and then we did a class trivia like ‘who is most likely to’ whatever,” Patnam remembers.

Patnam also says that other events or class interactions included a Secret Santa during Christmas and an Among Us event, both of which had pretty notable turnouts. Recently, the Junior StudCo had hosted an official event for playing an online version of the board game Codenames.

Outside of events, Uni Students have been looking for ways to connect in different ways, sometimes more casually than holding or participating in an official class event.

Senior May Yang talks about how she has tried to stay connected with her friends and peers during quarantine through the club she co-leads called the National Art Honor Society, or NAHS.

“We have our own chapter here at Uni… Essentially, it’s a group of people who are either passionate about art or want to be members of the club and we organize a lot of art related activities for Uni,” Yang says.

“We meet on Tuesdays during lunch and during our typical meetings we’ll just organize either events or brainstorm future events and things like that. In terms of actual drawing, we have our uni period drawing sessions and those are open to just the general Uni community. Whoever wants to stop by can. 

“Definitely it’s not limited to people who like drawing. Honestly anyone can come, but I think that the people that go there generally have an interest in drawing, either that or some other form of art, so I think it’s nice to have a place where people with similar interests can connect,” she adds.

Yang also mentions the importance of NAHS for having a space for common interests.

“I think in general, especially for subbies, I bet it’s really tricky trying to find people that you can relate to, especially because it is hard to talk to people, so I think having a space where people are free to come and either just chill and meet some new people or just draw; I think having that especially now is very important. It’s definitely a way that we can all stay connected,” Yang states. “Just letting people know it’s available, I think that’s helpful for people who either want to explore new things or want to continue drawing and weren’t able to do so previously.”

Choi, Tiouririne, and Patnam also mention ways outside of their jobs as Student Representatives that they connect with their friends and classmates.

Tiouririne says that she and her friends communicate through group chats and Zoom as their main source of staying connected.

“For my friend group, in the beginning of [quarantine], we were super connected. We were Zooming every lunch period. Every Uni Period we’d get together and play some random game, things like that… I feel like now it’s kind of deteriorated. We still have our group chat, we’re still connected, I just dont think we’re as connected,” Tiouririne observes.

On the other hand, Tiouririne says, “[However], I’ve just been connecting with people in my class who I probably wouldn’t have connected with as well if we were still in person because they’re just in my Zoom classes and we talk a lot… We do have our group chats and stuff which have been pretty active lately. I think we’re still getting a good amount of communication in, it’s just definitely a lot harder.”

Patnam once again mentions games and conversation on Discord as an outlet for her to connect with a variety of different people.

“I am guilty of only talking to two people one on one, so the more casual Junior Discord server that’s not strictly juniors that has people from Centennial, Central, Underclassmen, Upperclassmen [and] also playing games in general… it’s a good way to talk to people but you don’t have that awkwardness of like ‘I have to put an effort to talk about something’ because the game is what you can talk about,” Patnam notes, also mentioning her interactions asking for homework help and her experiences in clubs as prominent ways of connection.

In similar ways to Tiouririne and Patnam, Choi mentions the games her friend group plays together and the interactions and conversations they share for academic purposes.

“We make Zooms and do homework together and write college essays together. I know one time we had a study session going from 10am to 5pm… we have those study sessions and then we just like to study together. Also back when it was a little safer, we would go to the library a lot or somewhere and study in each others’ company when we could… it’s just nice having someone there even if you’re not talking to them,” Choi says.

“Of course we have games… We used to play Minecraft together and then I know the boys liked to play Terraria and Chess together. Honestly, a lot of times we end up [having] late night talks on Zoom or Discord and we do a lot of like Jackbox these days… It just varies and depends on our mood, but a lot of it consists of just starting with a game or studying and we just gradually transition to talking for a while,” she also mentions.

Majority of students can agree that this change to online learning was quite drastic and hard to adjust to considering they could not see their friends again.

Interim Director Dr. Majerus and other members of Uni’s staff and faculty have been working on ways for students to connect, including daily hangouts with teachers and Wednesday homerooms.

“I think the hangouts have been pretty successful. It seems like we get a handful of students at least every time and it seems like it’s just an opportunity for students to have some social time. There’s a variety of different teachers and staff members who sponsored those, and I know when I’ve sponsored them, it’s been and it’s been nice seeing students, so I think that’s been positive,” Majerus says. 

“It seems like the Wednesday homerooms are going pretty well by and large. Obviously that’s going to vary a lot from group to group, it depends on the mix of personalities in the room, the sponsor and how the sponsor feels about it, things like that; but I have dropped in on a few of those and it seems like there’s some gelling going on and some of those groups are having fun with their themes and things like that, so I think those have been pretty positive [as well],” she also observes.

However, there is hope for some in-person activities in the near future. There are “Winter-Walks” happening for all grade levels, one of which happened last Friday, the 5th of February.

“It would be great to have more opportunities, and what I would really like to do is see us be able to have more stuff in person, so I’m really hoping that we can do that,” Majerus adds. “I very much regret that just as we were sort of starting to gear up to do more [in-person events earlier on], the case numbers really spiked and it kind of killed several plans we had for in person things, but I’m hoping that we can still do some of that stuff in the spring. I know Dr. Radnitzer and I are talking about doing outdoor things. Even if the case numbers are still high, we feel like it’s safe when we are all outdoors and wearing masks.” 

Despite not being in person, students are still finding ways to connect so that when they see their friends and their classmates in the hallways once again, that experience will be much more enjoyable.