Vt. Choral Students Welcome In-Person Workshop During Remote Learning Term

Burlington High School is in remote learning mode due to the discovery of chemicals in the air indoors

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A rare get-together for high school music students in Vermont's largest city Wednesday highlighted how arts educators have worked hard to adapt to the era of remote learning—and are getting creative to reduce student isolation.

"Even for a half hour, I'm just happy they get to see each other," said Billy Ray Poli, the chair of the music department at Burlington High School.

BHS is fully in remote learning mode this fall, though not because of COVID-19.

Rather, the shift was due to chemicals found in the air inside. The substances have been linked to old construction materials.

"I'm really into theater, which has basically been taken away, so this is really nice to be back in person singing," said Daniel Gibson, one of Poli's choral students who participated in a pop-up class and performance in City Hall Park.

Yes, software has allowed BHS music classes to move online, but students and educators alike acknowledge they're simply not the same—nowhere close.

Wednesday's outdoor workshop performance, part of a series using coronavirus prevention guidelines, gave the kids just their second chance to be together this term.

It was the first time singing the particular selections Poli assigned them, the choral director noted.

"To me, it really means that we can really feel the community that music really creates, because music does bring people together," said student Julia Hondal.

"For this pandemic, it's supposed to lift people up and show that you can still do fun stuff," added Jasmine Santiago, another BHS student, describing one aim of the in-person workshop performance.

Poli told NECN the outdoor pop-up was just one way his colleagues across all BHS departments are working to meet student needs safely and meaningfully—helping cut isolation.

That work drew applause from district administrators.

"I'm just so impressed by our faculty," said Tom Flanagan, Burlington's school superintendent. "We're making sure we're creating experiences for [students] where they're not feeling isolated."

The pop-up in City Hall Park drew an audience of parents, who maintained physical distancing while listening to their children sing as a group.

Vermont's largest city on Friday opened a park that had been closed for more than a year. The remade park comes with protections for the environment and a timely memorial.

"I love hearing them," mom Jessica Oski said. "It brings me to tears every time."

Poli, responding to a question from NECN about the importance of arts education right now, said, "Visual arts, technology arts, music arts, theater arts, we need these things—these are things people cling to in this time."

During the overlapping stresses of 2020, the lessons in resilience for arts educators and students have them determined to not miss a beat.

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