For now, Zoom Town Hall will be every other week

Agenda Committee says students need less screen time, more Flex time, as students say Zoom format makes it easier to contribute to discussion

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BP Photo by Benjamin Gamson

DISCUSSION: David Edwards, last year’s Agenda Chair, led a Zoom Town Hall on May 13 about a proposed new Just Community Constitution.

Noah Elad, Staff Writer

When Town Hall convenes tomorrow morning, it will be the second time this year. But the first time wasn’t last Tuesday. It was the Tuesday before.

This fall, for the first time in school history, Town Hall has been scheduled to take place every other week instead of weekly.

Until now, since the school’s founding in 1993, Town Hall had been a weekly event. But over the summer, Agenda Committee officials and Just Community advisor Rabbi Ari Schwarzberg decided the pressures of Zoom learning called for a change — at least for now.

Rabbi Schwarzberg said that for now, having Town Hall every other week is only certain until Sukkot, and the Agenda Committee will discuss further actions after the holiday. 

He said the reasoning was that it can be difficult for many students to work on their screens for an extended period of time, and he thought having extra break time was more important than staying consistent with Town Hall.

“Sitting in front of a computer all day long is exhausting and tiring, and the ability to give students the break from Town Hall allows students to get a real break on Tuesdays from their work,” said Rabbi Schwarzberg. 

ONLINE: Agenda Chair Kate Orlanski ran the first schoolwide Town Hall of the 2020-21 school year Sept. 1. The topic was Instagram activism. (BP Photo by Keira Beller)

He also said that having Town Hall every other week gives the Agenda Committee extra time to plan and make sure that Town Hall is being run properly.  

“It also gives some time for the Agenda Committee and the school to figure out different options,” he said, “and to see how Town Hall will work or be effective in kind of a mandatory way given the new environment of online school.”

Agenda Vice Chair Jack Sanders said the change was also made to give students an extra Flex period to work on assignments.

Normally it wouldn’t be a problem, but under these circumstances with online school, I think it was best to give kids a little more free time to finish their work instead of having it every week,” said Jack. 

“Very few people had any online experience prior to this which is why many struggle. To put it differently, Town Hall is not meant to add additional stress, or interfere with people’s schedules, especially now when students are adjusting to unique circumstances.”

Agenda Chair Kate Orlanski also supported the change.

“I think it will have a positive impact on Town Hall, because since we only have to come up with a Town Hall every other week, it will ensure that the Town Hall’s we do put out are of higher quality,” said Kate in an interview.

Normally it wouldn’t be a problem but under these circumstances with online school, I think it was best to give kids a little more free time to finish their work instead of having it every week.”

— Jack Sanders, Agenda Vice Chair

Kate also said she thought there were pros to the Zoom format, saying she’d been surprised by strong participation of ninth-grade students Sept. 1.

“Town Hall online is very different than regular Town Hall…,” said Kate. “The freshmen seem very eager to speak and are excellent participants, which is something I haven’t seen before. I wonder if it’s because there’s not that same aspect of intimidation [that happens] when you’re standing in front of a huge room of people.”   

Students who thought that online Town Hall gave them more confidence to speak wished it were still being held weekly. 

Junior Anya Mendelson is against the new biweekly Town Hall schedule and believes students are missing an important value of Shalhevet when only having Town Hall every other week. 

“In the time of corona, so much is being taken from us that it kind of becomes our job to preserve as much as we can and that includes really little things like Town Hall, which is why I think we should be having it at least once a week,” said Anya. 

“It’s also a really big part of Shalhevet identity, I feel like it encompasses everything that the Just Community stands for, and now that it’s limited to once every other week, it feels like it’s barely there.”

Sophomore Avi Litvak agreed. 

“I would prefer to have Town Hall every week because I definitely think it’s a really good opportunity for the students to voice their opinions and for people to talk in front of the school, said Avi. 

The topic Sept. 1 was whether or not political activism on Instagram was effective. Among those who spoke was freshman Zion Schlussel. 

“Being online definitely gave me more confidence,” said Zion. “I know for sure if I had been at school, I would not have spoken. I would’ve wanted to speak but I definitely wouldn’t have.”

In the time of corona, so much is being taken from us that it kind of becomes our job to preserve as much as we can and that includes really little things like Town Hall, which is why I think we should be having it at least once a week.”

— Anya Mendelson, 11th grade

More than 200 people were present that day, according to the Zoom count.

“Being online is different, it’s not everyone staring, looking at you,” Zion said. “It’s like you could see like five people at a time, so it’s just easier that way.”

In contrast, Avi Litvak was discouraged by not being able to see everyone at once. 

“I feel less comfortable speaking in online Town Hall then normal because I feel like you can’t really see how people are reacting to what you’re saying, even if you look at the screens, you can’t see everyone at the same time,” said Avi. 

Rabbi Schwarzberg agreed that Town Hall online is different from Town Hall in-person. 

“There is one clear negative to me, and that is there’s no way when you’re online that you get a sense of what it is for the entire school community to be together — and my favorite part about Town Hall is that we have ninth-graders, we have faculty, we have administrators and seniors all together,” Rabbi Schwarzberg said. 

Having it less often, he said, might cause people to miss it during the off-weeks.

“If we have Town Hall every other week, then students might feel more connected to it, they might appreciate it more,” he said.