In-Person School During a Pandemic Is Still Better Than Virtual School

by Ibukun Owolabi

Opinion

October 26, 2020
Students enjoy some time together in BUA’s art studio. Luke Hargrave for The Scarlet Letter

With schools globally having closed their doors in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, September 3 was the first time I saw the inside of a school in months. I’m an incoming freshman, and that made walking through the BUA halls feel all the more strange. It wasn’t my first time being a new student, but there was a level of unfamiliarity this year not present before: at least at schools in previous years, students could have a slight idea beforehand of what the environment would be like. The former sense of normalcy has all but disappeared.

Even though we’re already two months into the school year, the social experience is moving rather slowly for many students. In-person school is not normal school. The safety regulations, which include social distancing and wearing a mask, have hindered opportunities for students to make relationships and even participate in school activities. The protocols have caused socializing to come to somewhat of a halt. But that isn’t to say there are no advantages to interacting with others in person — even with the amazing virtual activities that BUA’s faculty has hosted, the spark that two people feel when meeting for the first time cannot be duplicated in any way. Although the old “shake their hand and introduce yourself” trick will not be an option for an indefinite amount of time, in-person school has made it easier to form connections with other students. 

Anais Kim ’24 wrote that she “[could] build relationships with peers and teachers” when going to school in person, which is a fundamental part of the “full experience” of attending school. While there is no doubt that students would prefer a normal year over a coronavirus-affected year, in-person school has a distinctive atmosphere in itself. In a show of resilience, students have adapted to the unprecedented situation. By taking a step into the gym that is now filled with desks spaced six feet apart, you will find a student body that is pursuing its desire to socialize in a safe manner. BUA has found a way to bring back sports and clubs, and while singing and instrument playing are not allowed in the building, musicians continue to pursue their passions safely in new ways. 

Another student, Therese Draper ’24, noted “being able to see friends and teachers” as a positive, and furthermore said, “it’s really hard… to focus online, and class discussions are much easier in person.” Students are noticing that being in person is even helpful with regard to academics. We no longer discuss the Iliad around seminar-style tables, but we have still found a way to make sure all the in-person students are heard. From what I’ve observed in class, the teachers are getting used to teaching both in-person and remote students at the same time. While the insightful teachers at BUA have been teaching for a number of years, they never before have had to simultaneously field questions from a student over Zoom and another ten students sitting in front of them, and so it is easier for students who are not physically present to be forgotten in an in-person class. BUA teachers are aware of this problem and are actively seeking better ways to incorporate remote students into in-person classes.

As a person who has some concerns about the coronavirus, I think an added benefit of in-person learning is that it ensures BUA students are frequently receiving testing in BU facilities. Though remote students may have a smaller chance of contracting the virus, they are uncertain about their COVID-19 status. I would still want to know if I had the coronavirus regardless of whether I were coming to BUA or staying at home everyday. 

More than ever before, we do not know what the future has in store for this chapter of our lives. But for now, we have found success in our in-person learning model, and we can say with certainty that we have managed to overcome the obstacles created by the pandemic as a school, and more generally, as a community.

The Nomination of Amy Coney Barrett: McConnell Is Wrong, Students Say

by Matthew Volfson

Opinion

October 26, 2020

Editor’s Note: The recent nomination of Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court generated interest from the BUA student body. Here, Matthew Volfson presents his opinion of the proceedings, and two other students share their thoughts.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and President Donald Trump are not justified in pushing to confirm Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court. Trump nominated Barrett on September 26, just about a month from Election Day on November 3, when voting in the presidential election most officially begins. Early voting and mail-in ballots are already prevalent in many states. Trying to appoint a justice during an election year further increases partisanship. In perhaps an ironic twist, the Republican party has instigated a fight split between party lines for a position on the highest court in America, the emblem of justice and impartiality. The seat on the Supreme Court is not elected but can still have the final say on some of the most important issues today, such as healthcare and the right to abortion. 

In 2016, McConnell refused to consider then-President Barack Obama’s nominee, Merrick Garland. McConnell’s frantic push to confirm Barrett is an example of blatant hypocrisy down in Washington. Whether the Senate and presidency are held by the same party should not matter when deciding the capability of a person to serve in one of the most important institutions in the land. The history of the Supreme Court is one of nearly consistent automatic confirmations of Supreme Court justices. Only in recent times has the confirmation process become more contested.

The 1973 Roe v. Wade decision changed the role of the Supreme Court in the landscape of American politics. Roe v. Wade was, in brief, a case in which the Supreme Court ruled in favor of the right of a person to abort a fetus.1 The Court’s landmark decision may be in danger of being overturned if Barrett’s confirmation goes through and thus shifts the power balance to six justices nominated by a Republican president and three nominated by a Democratic one. Republicans and Democrats both want only their own agenda to be passed within a supposedly unbiased body. They are establishing partisanship, and the Supreme Court ought not to be compromised by partisan politics, especially because these justices are appointed and not elected by the American people. The justices should vote how they deem best, and no one ought to jeopardize their actions through partisan haggling like what we are seeing today with Amy Coney Barrett. McConnell and Trump are acting the exact opposite from the way we expect our leaders to act. They wish to undermine the fairness of the Court through pushing an appointee at the worst possible time, a few weeks before election day. 

Attempts by any party to push through a justice close to Election Day encourage both parties to advertise their own agenda during the televised confirmation hearings rather than look objectively at the judicial record and aptitude of the nominee. Senator McConnell and President Trump are hyping up fierce competition with this confirmation when what our country needs most is an unified message. McConnell and Trump lead the Republican Party by appointing a judge so close to an election. They divide the country when we want division the least. Americans are suffering and dragging themselves through a pandemic, the worst since the Spanish flu in 1919. 

Students want answers from their school, state, and national leaders on how to get through these times. It seems that uniting as a country would serve us best. Or perhaps students do believe partisanship is the right answer. Maybe we do need to turn the Supreme Court into an electoral contest because of the Court’s power to disrupt legislation created in Congress. In the following interview, two students have given their opinions on the issue of Barrett’s nomination.

Would you mind giving an introductory statement? What’s your political ideology? Can you give us a brief summary of your knowledge of Amy Coney Barrett’s nomination to the Supreme Court of the United States?

Alia Jaeger ‘24 (AL):

I am pretty liberal; I don’t exactly know my ideology at the moment. I don’t exactly know much about it. I have done mostly research on what [Barrett] has believed in and what she has done in the past. 

Anne Jackson ‘22 (AN):

I mostly lean moderate, but I’m liberal on a few issues such as healthcare. 

From what source have you heard about the confirmation of Amy Coney Barrett?

AL:

I think I read it in the New York Times. I don’t know the source exactly. I am pretty sure I read it on AP News. I don’t remember the other sources — I remember reading it on other news sites, but I don’t exactly remember which ones. 

AN: 

I mostly heard about this from the New York Times.

What are your thoughts on the confirmation of Amy Coney Barrett? Are you in favor of how the Republican leadership in the Senate handled the situation?

AL:

I don’t think she should be confirmed. I don’t think it should happen, especially now. It’s a bit too soon in my opinion. 

AN:

From my understanding, Amy Coney Barrett is a conservative justice who Republicans are trying to get confirmed as the ninth member of the Supreme Court. I think that the Republican Senators should take their own advice from 2016 and not confirm a justice until after the inauguration. I think that their way of handling it is further proof that they are self-serving hypocrites.

How familiar are you with Amy Coney Barrett? How do her views compare with yours? 

AL:

She has different views than I do. She hasn’t said a lot about her views recently. She isn’t exactly telling how her opinions are. She is pro-life; she always says she isn’t in favor of overturning Roe v. Wade, but she doesn’t support abortion. She never directly said she is against gay marriage, but she lectured at places that are [hostile to] gay marriage. 

AN: 

She has been very secretive on what [her] views actually are, so I don’t know what she thinks about a lot of major issues, and therefore I can’t give an accurate comparison of our ideologies.

How do you think a more conservative Supreme Court will affect our everyday life at BUA? How will our political action be altered with more conservative leaders? Will their rulings on healthcare, gun control, or abortion alter the landscape of Boston, the views of parents at our school, and our school? If so, how and why? 

AL:

I guess, starting with gun control. Republicans are not in favor of gun control. School shootings have happened in America, which is sad. With no laws on gun control, people might feel less safe at school. I don’t know if it will directly affect our school. I can’t think of anything else that will affect our school per se. I don’t think it will affect the landscape of our school very much. I don’t think having more conservative leaders will affect our students’ politics. Having more conservative leaders won’t really affect my political views. It could affect the views of other students. 

AN:

I think that one of the biggest ways a conservative Supreme Court could affect BUA is if the election results are contested and eventually wind up being heard by the Supreme Court. Considering that a lot of people in Boston work in the healthcare industry, I think that a court decision on the Affordable Care Act would definitely affect Boston more than other cities. In terms of gun control, Massachuesetts has far fewer guns than other states, and we also have stricter state gun control laws. While a conservative reading of gun control could increase the amount of gun owners in Massachusetts, I think it will affect us a lot less than more conservative states such as Florida or Texas, which are known for their high amount of gun owners.

Do you think that it is hypocritical that the Republican Senate under the leadership of Mitch McConnell accepted the confirmation hearing for Amy Coney Barrett but not for Merrick Garland?

AL:

Yeah, I do think it’s hypocritical. [McConnell] accepted the nomination made by a Republican but not a nomination made by a Democrat. 

AN:

It is highly hypocritical. It really makes you stop and think about whether they are acting in the interests of the states they represent or for their own political gain.

What are your final thoughts on the appointment of Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court of the United States, and how does it connect back to you and your political opinion?

AL:

Well, I don’t agree with her being nominated. She is a Catholic judge. I think there should be religious diversity on the Court. My political opinion is much different from hers.

AN:

I think that the arguments you make in 2016 should also apply to 2020. If you are against confirming a Democratic president’s appointee before an election, you should also be against a Republican appointee before an election. No confirmation before inauguration applies to everybody. Morals don’t change just when it’s convenient. 


1 Cornell Law School, Legal Information Institute, Jane ROE, et al., Appellants, v. Henry WAD,
https://www.law.cornell.edu/supremecourt/text/410/113.

Final Exams Should Be Cancelled

by Joie Liu

Opinion

May 6, 2020

Scheduled to be from June 1 through June 5, final exams have lingered in the back of many students’ minds since the beginning of the spring semester. However, because of the implementation of the new Zoom-based learning system in response to the COVID-19 crisis, the question of whether final exams should still occur is being considered. I believe that final exams should be cancelled or lessened this year. COVID-19 has affected everyone in different ways, with some feeling the impact of the virus to a greater extent than others. The pandemic has caused a heightened amount of stress for many families, and students do not need the added anxiety that final exams inevitably bring. BUA students are known for pushing themselves above and beyond; therefore, I believe that despite the final exams not having the ability to lower grades, in accordance with the recently enacted grading policy for the spring of 2020, students will push themselves to study and do well. In addition to the stress that exams produce, online exams are fraught with the possibility of academic dishonesty. Although most BUA students will not take advantage of the new system, it is likely that a number of students will view the online assessments as an opportunity to cheat. 

Final exams should not occur this year, for students are contending with high levels of stress, and online tests cannot be proctored. If BUA decides that it is necessary to administer final exams to test students’ knowledge of class material, one alternative that reduces both stress and the difficulties associated with conducting exams in remote learning is a system that some teachers have already been using. In the past two months, teachers have been experimenting with different methods of testing. An approach that has been widely used is open-book testing with a time limit. These exams typically take place on Blackboard, where many teachers use the built-in timer function. I have found that this system is one of the best ways to administer exams online, with the timer function preventing an excess of cheating or checking notes but open notebooks available as a last resort. I believe that this method of conducting tests is the best alternative to typical exams, especially as the open-book aspect lowers the stress and anxiety of frantic studying and provides an opportunity for teachers to gain a sense of the knowledge that a student has accumulated throughout the school year. 

Remote Learning Is Effective

by Amaya Willis

Opinion

April 12, 2020

With the world suffering from the effects of COVID-19, schools have been forced to search for alternatives to in-person learning. Some schools have given students video lessons and packets of work to do. In BUA’s case, teachers have taken to online classes using Zoom, a popular video-conferencing tool around the globe.

However, many BUA students and parents have shown concern about the effectiveness of remote learning and its influence on classroom dynamics. For example, are students in music sections expected to play pieces in the house where other family members may be working or learning remotely as well? How will art sections go on with not every student having the necessary materials? How do tests and assessments work now that teachers cannot proctor? Teachers have been trying their best to find answers to these questions and to work around difficulties associated with the move to online learning.

Despite a few concerns and conflicts, remote learning is very effective for BUA’s situation. It allows the BUA community to be safe, and students learn almost as much as they would in in-person classes. Some students find that they have a more flexible schedule with asynchronous classes or fewer classes. Office hours exist through private Zoom calls so that if students need any help outside of class, they can receive it. Group advisories still happen weekly, and students can schedule a one-on-one session with their advisors when necessary. Though students may take some time to get used to remote school, Zoom-based classes provide students with learning similar to the kind they would get in person. Remote learning does lack the social factor of in-person learning, which many students miss. Nevertheless, students can work around the distance in their own ways. BUA has already made many moves to decrease the virtual distance: clubs have moved online, Student Council has made an Instagram account to keep the community connected, and many use social media to communicate daily. Remote learning is useful for keeping up with the work originally planned for the second half of the spring semester, and it helps students grow as scholars. After all, BUA students learn without any limits.

Friday Activity Block Should Be Replaced With an Early Dismissal

by Joie Liu

Opinion

March 25, 2020

Friday activity block is a period after Friday classes constructed to allow clubs to have time to meet or students to get a head start on the weekend workload. With BUA’s recent move to remote learning, it is no longer occurring, but it is planned to resume once BUA is able to hold in-person classes again. For many students, Friday activity blocks are seen as time to catch up with friends and to socialize after a long, hard week of academics and tests. Often, no productive work is done, which I know from experience, and the block becomes a inefficient use of both students’ and teachers’ time. BUA is known for being an intensive school, and throughout the week, students’ brains are tested in a multitude of different ways. As a result, by the end of the day on Friday, we are tired and ready to go home to have a relaxing weekend. 

The plan that Student Council proposed to solve this problem would be to remove Friday activity block. Instead, students could choose to leave school and go home, or they could stay at school to participate in clubs or study. I think that this would offer the greatest flexibility for students, as students who anticipate that they will be unable to focus in the school environment can leave. Allowing students this choice would have the additional benefit of freeing up teachers’ time. However, students who are interested in going to club meetings can stay, since the building will still be open and clubs can use the free classrooms. 

A significant counterargument that could be made is that some students only go to clubs during Friday activity block because they have nowhere else to go, with the result that if the period is cancelled, attendance in these clubs might decrease. Despite the fact that this could be true, clubs may find that the students who choose to stay even with the option of going home contribute the most to the club, since they are the members who genuinely enjoy attending. I support and approve of Student Council’s proposal to remove Friday activity block. As a student, I appreciate that the plan both gives students the flexibility to either participate in clubs or have an early dismissal and allows teachers to go home earlier.

Toward a Closer Community: Freshmen and Upperclassmen Relationships

by Joie Liu

Opinion

February 27, 2020

BUA advertises its close community and how all students know each other. For the most part, it is true that BUA has a tight-knit community. In a survey recently conducted with 50 BUA students, it was found that all students know almost all the people in their grade by name. However, most people have serious gaps in their knowledge about the BUA community outside of their own grade. Most freshmen don’t know many of the upperclassmen, and most upperclassmen don’t know many of the freshman. The survey found that only 25% of freshmen know more than ten juniors by name, and only 12% of freshmen know more than ten seniors by name. On the other hand, only 33% of seniors know more than ten freshmen by name. BUA needs to do a better job with helping to establish connections between people in different grades, specifically between the freshmen and the upperclassmen. BUA does well in helping freshmen get to know sophomores, with numerous large-scale events and activities planned for just the two grades, such as Camp Burgess. In contrast, there are almost no events dedicated for freshmen and upperclassmen to get to know each other. It is very important for freshmen and upperclassmen to have connections, since that would result in a closer BUA community. According to Forbes, having friendships that are diverse can increase your exposure to different life experiences.¹ A benefit of having a tighter-knit community at BUA would be that students would associate with more people who do not share similar life experiences, and, in the process, be opened up to different perspectives. Friendships with upperclassmen can also be useful in that they would allow freshmen to obtain help in tackling difficult aspects of school that may not be easy to talk about with advisors. 

Currently, the best way for freshmen to get to know a range of upperclassmen is through extracurriculars, such as drama or sports. BUA does have in place a peer advising program in which some upperclassmen serve as mentors to freshmen, but this program only helps freshmen become acquainted with a few upperclassmen. More needs to be done to help bring the community closer together. BUA should host more events dedicated to helping freshmen and upperclassmen get to know each other, or at least each other’s names.


¹ Kourtney Whitehead, “Why Building Diverse Friendships Can Improve Your Career,” Forbes, June 27, 2019,
https://www.forbes.com/sites/kourtneywhitehead/2019 /06/27/why-building-diverse-friendships-improves-your-career/#43b13a5a6d21.

The Ineffective Homework Policy

by Aditi Deokar

Opinion

December 1, 2019

BUA’s homework policy of 45 minutes of homework per class would be effective if it were strictly followed. The reasoning behind the policy is that since one class drops per day and there is one academic block per day (except Wednesday, but there are two classes which drop on Thursday), there will be four homework assignments due each day and one will be completed in academic block, so only three homework assignments, adding up to two hours and fifteen minutes of homework, will be left to do at home. That seems pretty reasonable, but BUA homework ends up consuming a lot more time.

Some ninth and tenth grade teachers greatly underestimate how much time it takes students to finish homework. Homework assignments are intended to take on average 45 minutes per class per night.¹ Since students may take different amounts of time to finish homework, the 45 minute rule seems to imply that students will take longer than 45 minutes to finish homework from some subjects, but that extra time will be made up by the reduced time they spend on the subjects they find easier. From my experience, however, even the subjects I found easier as an underclassman generally took me about 45 minutes. So while a 45 minute per class expectation is reasonable, a teacher’s definition of 45 minutes of homework sometimes seems to be the amount of homework that a student at the top of that class would take 45 minutes to finish. For some classes, students take 45 minutes, and for others, they take much more. Teachers need to understand what is the average time that students take to finish homework and assign homework based on that.

In my experience, another reason that the homework load often exceeds 45 minutes is that in some classes, teachers expect students to complete long-term assignments, like essays, outside of the allotted 45 minutes. I have also had some teachers who provided time during class to work on problem sets, essays, or projects and gave us no homework for that day except to work on the long term-assignment. Setting aside one class and one block of homework time for working on a long-term project greatly helps reduce the amount of homework outside of the allotted 45 minutes per class that students need to do.

This year, some of my teachers have adopted the approach of having their students set a timer for 45 minutes every few weeks and stop work when the timer runs out. They then ask us in class how far we got. I think doing that in all classes would really help teachers get an idea of how long it takes students to finish homework. Strategies like this would limit homework to a reasonable amount and greatly reduce student stress. Even if only a few more teachers adopt a “set a timer” approach every so often, the homework load and stress would be reduced significantly. The 45 minute per class policy would be much more effective if it were properly followed.


¹Boston University Academy Student Handbook: Academic Year 2019-2020, 9.