The Host With the Most: Bronx Science Teachers’ Valiant Efforts to Make Virtual Learning As Good As It Can Be

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Ms. Kountourakis

“I always try to be ‘human,’ but this year I made a concerted effort to err on the side of hyper flexibility and kindness. I have no doubts that some students will take advantage of this, but in the end, if the worst thing that could be said was that I was generous with an extension or I was ‘light’ this year…. I’ll take it,” said Ms. Kountourakis.

From Zoom to Google Meets, teachers and students alike are working hard to make the new virtual learning experience of the 2020-2021 academic year as enjoyable as possible. Drastic changes in the school system due to the Coronavirus pandemic have made many feel as though they took last year for granted all the friends they got to make, school events they got to attend, and all the learning they got to do in person are now distant memories from a previous world pre-COVID. 

Nonetheless, the Bronx Science community as a whole is working to make this year as incredible and memorable as it can be. From bringing a smile to each other’s faces with a joke to always trying to answer each other’s questions, both students and teachers deserve to be recognized for all they have done to brighten up virtual classrooms!

Each of the following teachers has tried to make this as interesting and worthwhile an experience as possible, and have been recognized by their students accordingly. 

Mr. McNickle, Biology & AP Psychology Teacher: 

Arifa Tasmiya ’22 nominated Mr. McNickle, her AP Psychology teacher this year. “He genuinely cares about his students and tries to make learning as fun as possible.… so the class is engaging and a positive space in which to learn,” said Tasmiya. 

Mr. McNickle responded with two points regarding his teaching: Firstly, “I have come to realize that if I am bored in the classroom, it is likely that my students are too, and if my students are bored, then they bore me in a vicious cycle of dissatisfaction. We have fun. We learn. Both are important.”  And, secondly, “ If I can help my students to take joy in learning, I think they will be more likely to continue doing it once they have fulfilled their compulsory education. I seek to cultivate a permanent enthusiasm for new knowledge and understanding.”

Ms. McGuigan, English 10 & AP Language and Composition:

Sadia Ali ’22, nominated her English teacher, Ms. McGuigan, and said that she is known for her unconventional and exciting teaching style. Ali said “Out of all the classes I have had in Bronx Science, this class felt the most like a family. Ms. McGuigan was not like any regular English teacher. We made scripts, performed, played games, sang, and made lasting memories while learning at the same time.” 

Ms. McGuigan is cognizant of the troubling conditions that students have been put in and tries to keep this in mind. She said, “Grades, tests, [and] rubrics are all meaningless when you’re afraid to hug your grandparent because you left the house that day, or when you’re worried your parent might come home from their job as an essential worker with symptoms of COVID-19. Students are missing their friends and social interaction the most, so I incorporate group work and group projects,” which is something students, like Ali, believe helps make their virtual learning experience easier.

Ms. McGuigan went on to say that, “When I look back on my years in high school, I’m not warmed by the memory of homework assignments so much as I think about anecdotes from lunch, the friends I made from taking part in the school musical and color guard, the after-class chats with teachers who cared, etc.” This is what students are missing during the Coronavirus pandemic:  socializing with their friends, making lasting memories, and experiencing all those simple, mundane moments again. With this in mind, Ms. McGuigan tries to replicate some semblance of this in her class.

Ms. Pedraza, Mathematics Teacher:

Ali also nominated Ms. Pedraza and described her experience in her Honors Algebra 2 class during the Coronavirus pandemic, which many students can relate to. Like many students, Ali has been struggling with managing her fully remote classes, so although Ali loves math, she began to have more difficulty with the subject as the quarantine kicked in. She found that Ms. Pedraza was very understanding and patient, allowing her to make up any missing assignments for full credit. Ali added that Ms. Pedraza was always there to help her when she needed it or felt embarrassed asking other students for help. “I am very grateful! She has been kind, patient, and understanding. She made learning a lot easier and asking for help very easy. I have never had a better math teacher!”

Ms. Arcidiacono, Latin & French Teacher:

Shormi Anwar ’24 nominated her French teacher, Ms. Arcidiacono, for being so caring and for acknowledging the struggles of online learning. “If we ever have any problems, Ms. Arcidiacono always asks us to email her and she helps us right away…. She is extremely patient, which is great during such a time. She has reasonable due dates and tries to make virtual learning as fun and stress-free as possible. I always look forward to her class!”

Ms. Arcidiacono explained how she tries to keep her students motivated, especially during this school year. “Two things have really come to the forefront this year: community and flexibility,” she said. “By giving students more time to explore topics that they’re interested in, by giving them choice in how they learn the material, and by emphasizing learning as a community process, I think (I hope!) we can help ease some of these stressors.”

“Remote learning has made it incredibly difficult to build relationships with my students and to know how effective I am being. My favorite part of teaching is building a class environment of trust, rigor, and fun. That’s my goal every year and I wasn’t sure if I was going to be able to do that this 2020 school year,” said Ms. Kountourakis. (Ms. Kountourakis)

Ms. Kountourakis, APUSH, U.S. History, & Race, Gender, and Ethnicity Teacher:

An anonymous student (’22) said that her AP U.S. History teacher, Ms. Kountourakis has fostered something of an understanding and caring virtual learning experience for her. “She always takes the time to ask us ‘how are the vibes out there”’ and makes it very obvious that she cares for our well being… She has been understanding and accommodating throughout the last months, and I couldn’t have been happier to have her as a teacher.”

Ms. Kountourakis is one of the most sincere and caring teachers at Bronx Science, as expressed by her students and seen through her actions. “I always say that we can’t get our content down if we are not in the right ‘headspace’ and that it’s ok to not be in the right headspace once in a while, even more so during a year like this. I do these little informal ‘vibe checks’ at the start of every class…. Depending on our vibes and our course calendar, I will sometimes adjust our schedules… push a homework back etc,” said Kountarakis.

Ms. Li, Mathematics Teacher:

Derrick Tan, ’21 nominated his AP Statistics teacher, Ms. Li. Tan said that she “teaches the subject well and makes it fun to learn. She also cracks jokes with us…. She always made the lessons fun and is a very transparent teacher, so it’s easy to talk to her regarding class and such.” 

An anonymous senior, ’21, added that Ms. Li was her PreCalculus teacher in the past and that “she always took the time to make sure that we understood all the material and she taught very clear and concise lessons. She was also extremely nice and very friendly with the students, and overall one of the best math teachers I’ve ever had.”

All in all, this has been one of the most unforgettable years of our lives, and perhaps not in the best way possible. But these teachers, along with countless others at Bronx Science, are working hard to ensure that their students are making the best of this experience and for that we applaud them!

All in all, this has been one of the most unforgettable years of our lives, and perhaps not in the best way possible. But these teachers, along with countless others at Bronx Science, are working hard to ensure that their students are making the best of this experience and for that we applaud them!

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