Students have been forced to conduct many of their club activities virtually; however, those who organize Berkley High School’s student body events recently held a socially distanced movie night on an athletic field.

Students have been forced to conduct many of their club activities virtually; however, those who organize Berkley High School’s student body events recently held a socially distanced movie night on an athletic field.

Photo provided by Jessica Stilger

Schools work to continue clubs virtually and in person

By: Mike Koury | Woodward Talk | Published October 26, 2020


FERNDALE/BERKLEY — Teachers have been doing their best to give their students an education since the COVID-19 pandemic began earlier this year.

But outside of the typical educational curriculum, schools have also been trying to get their clubs underway in a virtual setting.

Kelly Komlen has had a unique task this school year, as she recently was hired to be Ferndale High School’s new drama instructor and to lead the students through the annual fall production.

Unfortunately, due to COVID-19, Komlen instead is leading the kids over Zoom through individual monologues, which will be taped and later streamed online. While the process so far has been OK, she said, it hasn’t been perfect.

“The monologues make it a little bit closer to perfect because, with monologues, you’re either interacting with an invisible person, an invisible character that would be in the play with you, or you’re interacting with the audience,” she said. “But from an acting/coaching/teaching perspective, it does make it a little bit more difficult because you’re not there and it makes it more difficult to observe vocal issues that you want to address, projection, diction and also, to a degree, physicality, which both of those things are really important in theater acting more so than they are in film acting, and those things are a challenge with Zoom.”

An actor and director herself, Komlen said she’s been watching professional theater to try to figure out how to make virtual productions work, and from what she’s seen, she decided to go with the monologues instead of a production over Zoom. She also was happy that the school was letting her work with the students for a week in person in the school’s theater.

“I will have that week in the theater where I am live with them and I can at least have that week to (rehearse),” she said. “At least over Zoom we can work on character development and acting technique. I’m just gonna have a truncated process of the technical elements of acting.”

Berkley District Drama Coordinator John Hopkins also has been getting his students ready over Zoom for a production this fall. He said the rehearsing has been done mostly virtually, though he has been able to get some small groups together in person with everyone spaced out and wearing masks.

Hopkins said he’s been pushing the students to take the lead on drama club, asking them what they want out of it this year and what they need from it.

“In the drama department, it’s not something that they’re required to do,” he explained. “It’s usually a kid’s escape or an outlet for something that they do want to go into. So when kids need an escape and maybe home isn’t their safe place, maybe school is the place where they feel the most supported. … With the drama department, in many cases, I have kids all four years of school. So these are kids who have clung to the department, sometimes, because of that need for a safe space. So they miss each other. I miss the kids terribly. Being able to see them face-to-face so rarely at this point, it’s so good for my soul (to see them), and I hope it’s good for theirs too.”

Outside of drama, Hopkins also has taken over the high school’s Gay-Straight Alliance group. Like with his drama kids, Hopkins wants his GSA members to take the lead on what they want to accomplish and need from the club.

Hopkins said that now, during the COVID-19 pandemic, is a time where the kids need as much support as possible, and he feels it has been difficult to run the GSA virtually.

“This particular type of a student organization is full of kids who maybe … this part of their identity isn’t fully known at home,” he said. “So if they’re sitting at home, it’s difficult to fully open up. If they are kids that are questioning and they’re reaching out to test the waters, being in the next room from your mom or siblings, it’s difficult to talk about it. So one thing I did notice in our first meeting was kids seemed a little bit nervous at the very beginning of it, but because our focus, ‘Let’s get to know each other and let’s talk about the support more than the reason for it,’ the kids were, by the end of the meeting, enjoying it and realizing … maybe this could be OK.”

Stefanie Coburn, who runs the student leadership class at Berkley High School, works with her 29 kids to run all the student body events at the school. They recently wrapped up homecoming week by making videos with the students, holding a virtual pep rally, and creating a socially distanced putt-putt course in the school.

The class also had an outdoor food truck rally and movie night on one of the school’s athletic fields to watch “Black Panther.”

“We probably had almost 400 people at our food truck rally and our movie night,” she said. “It was all outdoors. We happened to have really nice weather. … Everybody was very socially distanced. We took temperatures upon entry. … The kids were awesome. People really came out. I think they were really needing that connection — the social connection.”