At the start of any typical school year, Kelly Blake is busy meeting with the after-school clubs she runs. This year, however, Blake’s schedule — and her students’ schedules — are full of unknowns. “The school has so many things related to COVID-19 to figure out this year,” she says. “After-school activities are not a priority.”
For kids who normally shine through theater, sports, or other non-classroom activities, COVID-19 may feel like a double whammy. First the pandemic restricted in-person socializing. Then it took away activities that gave many kids a reason to get out of bed in the morning.
Students tell Blake how cut off they feel from interests that have long been part of their identities. Unfortunately, as long as COVID-19 is a serious risk, many activities could remain off-limits. This could take a toll on kids’ mental health.
Staying active and connected during COVID-19
The kids who are coping best with the pandemic have found ways to keep doing the things they love, says Kelsey Griffith, a performance enhancement and rehab specialist at The Micheli Center for Sports Injury Prevention.
Since the start of the outbreak, Griffith has helped performing artists and athletes develop mental skills to stay focused under the current circumstances. “I encourage them to recognize that things are not how they want them to be,” she says. “They need to experience that, then ask themselves, what can I do in this situation?”
Below are stories of kids who have stayed involved in activities they love during this strange time.
Chelsea: For the love of dance
Chelsea Cobb was looking forward to a busy 2020 season. The 9-year-old has danced since the age of 3 and was ready to compete at the national level. But she only had time for one live competition before COVID-19 hit. “It brought me down, but I still love to dance,” says Chelsea. After a period of adjustment, she competed in five events this summer.
After months of practicing at home, Chelsea and her mom, Amanda, scheduled time in her empty studio and filmed her routine. They entered the resulting video in four virtual competitions. Then in August, she performed on The Royal Dance Competition stage. Her focus and hard work paid off. Chelsea received a Grace and Beauty Award and was crowned first runner up Royal Petite Princess. “Quarantine was tough for Chelsea, but she was able to excel,” says Amanda.
Amir: Sailing instructor adjusts course
Amir Aitelhadj did not love sailing right away. “It was really hard and I was really scared.” But he kept going back and instructors at Courageous Sailing helped build his skills and confidence. Seven years later, he planned to be an instructor-in-training so he could help other kids overcome their fears.
When youth programing went online this spring, Amir stayed involved. Courageous Sailing continued to rent sailboats to small groups and Amir got a job helping out. He was also a featured speaker at the organization’s summer event. Rather than appear in person, he recorded his speech from his living room. “I was able to stay connected to a sport that means so much to me,” he says.
Calder: Theater production goes virtual
When Calder Shen got the part of Belle in Beauty and the Beast, she thought it would be a good way to cap off middle school. But rehearsals had barely gotten started when COVID-19 forced schools to shut down. A few weeks later, the director contacted cast members to suggest they take their performance online. Calder and other leads recorded themselves performing excerpts of the show from home and the director wove the pieces together into a final cut.
When the video premiered on YouTube, Calder and her family made a night of watching it. “It was fun to be part of,” says Calder, who spent the rest of the summer pursuing her interest in robotics. She joined the high school team by videoconference and the team captain sent her a robot to build. “Considering my school’s hybrid schedule this fall, it’s good to know I can be active in the club either at school or from home.”
Tatiana: Singing on a different stage
If it weren’t for COVID-19, Tatiana McAlpine would have spent much of this spring and summer singing for live audiences. When all of her scheduled performances were cancelled, she turned her attention to practicing piano. “I had so much time on my hands, what else was I going to do?” she says.
She wasn’t stuck in the wings for long however. In May, she performed three songs for a Facebook Live event. Over the summer, she sang in a concert and performed in a summer-stage musical. The stage was in the theater’s parking lot and tables were set up 25 feet away. Despite the unusual circumstances, it felt good to sing with people again. “When I heard my friends sing, I thought, ‘Oh my gosh, I’ve been missing this for so long.’”
Adapting to COVID-19 and the change of seasons
Staying active through a pandemic takes time and creativity, particularly as days get shorter and temperatures drop.
Now that sailing season is over, Amir is waiting to hear if his school will allow basketball or football. If not, his family will figure something out. “We did a lot of hiking and kayaking as a family this summer,” says his mom, Jeannette. “I would prefer for my kids to be able to play sports, but if they can’t, we’ll keep doing things outside together.”
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