The Mendham Speaker Series

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Ana Clara Monaco, S&G Editor

For nearly 14 months, society has been attacked by an invisible assailant: the coronavirus. Shutting down businesses, preventing social gatherings, and isolating individuals from loved ones, the pandemic has completely changed our habits and customs. Schools are among those hit hardest by Covid-19, as administrators are placed in the ongoing struggle of protecting students while maintaining a high standard of education. Mendham staff has been forced to rethink nearly every aspect of the school day– positioning hand sanitizer and cleaning wipes at each classroom door, adopting a modified cohort system with both in-person and online learners, and updating their approach in response to any CDC changes. Due to the pandemic’s impedance of a normal school year, finals have been cancelled for all students; in their place, Mendham teachers will reprise the Speaker Series. 

Having introduced the Series to Mendham students last year as an alternative to finals, which were once again cancelled due to the pandemic’s disturbance, the administration has decided to repeat this decision for the 2021 school year. Essentially, each teacher will make a short presentation, similar to a TedTalk, on any topic of their choice. As there are no restrictions to these topics, beyond those that are reasonable and obvious, teachers will be able to express themselves and teach their students about something that interests them. Last year’s events included “Running for non-runners”, “Life as a Radio DJ”, “Majors and Careers – Making Choices”, “Travel to Costa Rica”, “Volunteering Opportunities”, and “Basic Bread Making”– among many others. The Series was evidently diverse in its topics and likely beneficial to the students, who were able to connect with their teachers and learn about a topic that interested them. Although the lineup has not been released for this year, most students are anxiously awaiting a successful ‘reboot’ of the event. Sophomore Frances Miller expressed her appreciation of the “nice break from school” and agrees with the cancellation of finals because “this year has not been normal”. From an academic standpoint, however, she admitted that finals were beneficial to review and gage her knowledge from the year. Thomas Bulzacchelli, although appreciating the Series as a “way for teachers to express themselves”, expressed confusion at how the Series can replace finals, as the two are completely different. Another student, Emma Stark, found a bone to pick with the Series in its lack of interaction with students. “Many students will be so checked out of school that they won’t engage in the presentations,” she said, although admitting that it is difficult to ensure that students are truly listening. Erica Russo suggested, as a solution to this problem, that teachers put out Google Forms for feedback or reviews; she loves the Speaker Series and “still [uses] a recipe that [she] learned from a video (last year) every week”. Parker Inglis expressed a completely different view, finding the Series unproductive and pointless: “after such a long year we are required to continue going on our screens to learn about things we do not truly want to learn about”; she suggests that the teachers cover useful topics like taxes and debt to effectively utilize the platform. When asked what they wish to see as topics in the Speaker Series, students suggested videos about mental health, traveling experiences, real-life stories, cooking recipes, pertinent life skills, volunteer opportunities, unique hobbies or talents, and college application tips/guides. Although most students are unanimous in their support for the retraction of finals, the Speaker Series has proved controversial among the student body– who either view it as an unnecessary waste of time or an entertaining way to unwind and end the year.