How well do studio and performing arts classes work in a hybrid learning environment? Students say it’s not ideal

Katie Rebhan, Culture Editor

What makes arts and music classes at Potomac so much fun for students who are artistically or musically inclined? Creative types will answer the question differently (of course), but a series of interviews with students in arts and music classes makes it clear that the hybrid world we’re all forced to inhabit is far from ideal. What’s it like to produce ensemble music when some or all of the musicians are on Zoom? About what you would expect. Holding your artwork up to a screen? That sounds fun. Even on campus, less frequent opportunities to create art under the appreciative gaze of a now masked teacher leave students wanting more.

Sophomore Lina Jaeger described her experience in a drawing and design class: “The transition from orange to yellow has gone well. Ms. Cannell-Boone and the students, in person and on Zoom, have been given assignments that can be done from home and from school,.”

Lina described a recent assignment that asked students to take black and white photographs in their neighborhoods to illustrate what their masked worlds looked like. “It was something I personally had never done before, so it was a lot of fun to experiment with. I would say, all in all, that the drawing and design class has had a smooth transition from the orange plan to the yellow plan while still learning new drawing techniques in each class.” 

Perspective piece from a virtual drawing and design class

Bunny Cameron, a junior currently taking ceramics, knows that her teacher, Mrs. Enck, has made the most of a challenging situation. “While in school, I had access to a lot in the studio, including an immense amount of materials such as the wheel that I have not been able to use since Potomac’s distance and hybrid learning started. While I truly miss the studio and all of the materials in it (especially the wheel), I am impressed at how well Mrs. Enck has been able to make ceramics at home work.”

Bunny notes one area of potential improvement in the arrangement of hybrid learning for studio arts. 

“During the yellow and orange plans, ceramics is different from most classes because we are not allowed to work in the studio on the days we are in school. While I understand that we must take precautions because of COVID, I really dislike that I have to sit in a classroom on hybrid days, Zoom into the online class, and watch a video when the studio is just right upstairs,” she said.

Students in music classes miss the days their entire class was able to gather together for class periods. “We can only meet in very small groups at infrequent intervals, and it’s difficult for Mrs. Wynn to keep tabs on the student’s progress,” senior Jian Mostaghim said of orchestra classes “Personally, I feel bad for the music directors all across the board, since their job is not easy right now.” 

Freshman Leila Bodner, who also takes orchestra, raised the concern that when rehearsing from home it’s challenging to stay motivated. “I personally like the new format of the music classes, but I think that it’s strange to expect students to practice on their own during the class period while they are at home because I for one finish homework or do nothing because I’d rather do that than practice.”

Similarly, band members have also found that the new format of their classes has changed markedly from previous years, especially since many precautions, including the use of plexiglass shields, must be taken to safely play band instruments.

Due to social distancing rules, we don’t get to play together, and the virtual classes cause all of our work to be independent. The band directors are doing a great job of keeping students practicing regularly, but it’s hard to stay engaged when a lot of that work is scales and fundamentals instead of actual songs,” junior Sam Bennett said.  

Freshman Sydney Rushing, another band member, agrees. “I don’t think it’s as beneficial as it could be in person,” said Sydney. “We have to go on mute while we play, so we do not know if we are playing cohesively as a group.” 

Concert band warms up 6-feet apart at an outdoor pep rally performance

Singers in chorus also find it easier to engage with class when on-campus. “I would consider chorus to be one of the more difficult classes to do virtually because of how much of the class relies on timing and collaboration. When we have class over Zoom, we can’t have our microphones on, so you can’t really tell if you are singing correctly or not. It’s definitely much easier on campus, since you can hear other singers, but the masks can make it difficult to get enough air for some of the songs. That being said—I’d much rather be on campus than off, so the masks are such a minor issue,” senior Caroline Dunn said.