Extracurricular participants work toward goals via Google Meet, Zoom

The opportunities and pitfalls of conducting meetings, clubs virtually

As the new school year begins from the safety of students’ homes, the students heading up extracurricular activities have been working to keep on their feet and prepare for their respective moments in the spotlight. 

The 2020 school year has opened not by way of classroom doors but the powering-on of laptops and situating of chairs. This theme continues to prevail as teams such as Mock Trial and Debate gather via Google Meets and Zoom to discuss new opportunities that await behind their screens. 

Senior Prerana Rao, one of two captains of Oak Park’s Mock Trial team, explained that the first class was held on Sept. 1. During August, over 60 people — returning members included — took to auditioning for roles on the team. 

As a Mock Trial captain, Rao, and her fellow captain, senior Prinaka Drona, work hard to teach and assess members of the team. During the summer, they created a plan in order to adequately prepare the 2020-2021 Mock Trial team for their competition. Together, they create lesson plans, quizzes, tests and assignments. 

“Usually people don’t realize the sort of work that goes into running the class, but it is probably one of the most difficult extracurriculars to run on campus,” Rao wrote to the Talon. “Our faculty adviser, Dr. [Victor] Anderson, also spends much of his time towards running the class, and [navigates] all the technical aspects of signing us up for competition.”

Due to the pandemic, the class’s schedule was delayed by an entire month. Typically, auditions are hosted in May, but because of the sudden shift to distance learning, this was not a possibility. 

“It’s definitely been different to communicate with members, especially considering that many of them are new and it was difficult to get their contact information. It is doable, but it does result in us and Dr. Anderson checking our emails and multiple other communication boards several times a day,” Rao wrote.

Head of the Ventura County Mock Trial competition, John Tarkeny, has informed students that they will do all that they can to ensure that the competition occurs while guaranteeing the safety of all those looking to compete. 

The Debate team has also been preparing for their season, headed by captains and seniors Beshane Bans and Charlie Nicks. Future tournaments are set to be held online, and meetings are held every Tuesday, Thursday and Friday, also digitally. 

“Unfortunately, tournaments we have historically gone to have been cancelled, but [competing] online also gives us the opportunity to compete in other leagues and abroad,” Bans wrote to the Talon.

Tryouts, interviews and meetings have been conducted online thus far. According to Bans, something that has posed a challenge has been that of garnering a level of engagement between debaters that parallels engagement levels of previous years. Nonetheless, the captains are working to teach material and conduct drills via zoom. 

“We have already interviewed and selected our applicants trying out for our Novice team this year. While it is more difficult to truly teach ‘Speech and Debate’ over a video call, our coaches are committed to providing an experience over the internet that matches or surpasses the quality of years prior by having frequent meetings and encouraging debaters to compete,” Bans wrote. 

According to Bans, online competitions, while rare, did exist in the past. Large tournaments, some of which host hundreds of schools, will likely struggle to coordinate to the same degree as previous years. It is currently difficult to foresee what the future holds in terms of competitions, since new information is constantly being released, but given the Debate team’s record of placing first and second in its league often, Bans is hopeful for the team’s future. 

“Although the road is still uncertain, our new novices have shown extraordinary potential thus far, and we have high hopes going forward that Oak Park Debate is still going to dominate this year,” Bans wrote.