by Drew Smith/Staff Writer

Photo Caption: Mr. Bill McKenna from Radio/TV, Preston Wise, 10, and Mario Steverson, 10, share their experiences with the effects of a pandemic on their work and home life.

COVID-19 has struck Greenfield-Central in innumerable and difficult-to-capture ways. From the grind of minimum wage jobs and the ever- perpetual struggle to keep working, to family gatherings being limited or shut down and Thanksgiving turning into a small meal, to the desperate need for a new year and the frustration at the current state of education, Greenfield-Central has been swamped with coronavirus complications. Students struggle with maintaining a well-balanced work-home life, as teachers struggle with managing students out of their reach. COVID-19 and its implied restrictions have made life more difficult than ever for many people in not only Greenfield, but also the entire world. But if one wants to examine how it has specifically affected small town education, look no further than COVID-19 and its effects at GCHS. 

Mario Steverson, 10, recently worked at Piney Acres, a well-known establishment in Hancock County, during Halloween season as part of the horror attraction. It’s a minimum wage job wherein the worker’s goal is to scare oncoming customers and provide a spooky experience, on the whole for the entire horror attraction. Steverson, when asked if he felt valued at his place of work, stated, “Of course I feel valued. I feel this way because, well, it’s very unique to work at a place like this, and I feel as if without people like me working there, the Halloween activities wouldn’t really exist.” Steverson seems quite pleased with his circumstances at work, even going on to say, “I enjoy it all. I like putting on the act of some scary dude. It’s a big change of pace for me because I’m not scary at all in real life.” The hours are slim, only having to work eight hours out of the week, and Steverson seemed happy with the pay. 

Even with all that considered, COVID-19 lurks over his workplace. When asked about how he felt during a pandemic, Steverson mentioned creative COVID-19 procedures, elaborating, “I feel fine, because I’m not putting myself or others at risk. Where I work there’s three attractions, and the most up close and personal one, where I am, is doctor-themed. I bring that up because you can really play it up with masks, and face shields, and hazmat suits.” The procedures at Piney Acres seem appropriate as well, Steverson noted, stating, “There’s a lot of scenes and scares removed so that repeated contact is not an issue, and this isn’t really putting anyone at risk. Everyone sanitizes before starting and customers do as well. I feel very comfortable working there.” Piney Acres has seemed to be able to creatively combat COVID-19 complications, but the pandemic has still affected how the attractions are created and how many attractions are present.

Steverson’s perspective on minimum wage labor has been quite altered by his time at Piney Acres. When asked how the job has changed his view on labor and hard work, especially during COVID-19, he answered, “I respect it more. I went in thinking it’s going to be easy but there’s a lot of hard work that goes on behind the scenes. It can either be really hot or really cold, and you can’t let it get to you. It hasn’t really changed my perspective a whole bunch, as I already had a lot of respect for people who worked outside in colder conditions, but the hard work was never a problem.” Steverson continued on, stating, “I think if you start to work a minimum wage job as early as you can, you can better prepare yourself to get better paying jobs. Minimum wage is definitely not enough to live off of, but when you’re 13 years old, you’ll be glad to have a little extra cash in your pocket.” Steverson is quite enamored with his place of work, even considering the conditions and pay, and elaborated on his motivation, explaining, “I just want to help out. When it comes to the money aspect, I’d honestly do it for free. I know with the pandemic, people are just itching for some excitement, and knowing I can help someone have a ‘spooktacular’ evening is a really good feeling.” With the conclusion of the Halloween season, Steverson’s time working there has come to a close, but it seems guaranteed that whether in a pandemic or just a normal Halloween, you might catch Steverson at Piney Acres during October, or more likely, he’ll catch you. 

But Halloween wasn’t the only holiday affected by COVID-19 this year. Preston Wise, 10, participates on the school’s bowling team and is generally a solid student. Wise has quite the traditional Thanksgiving traditions: turkey, football, and family. But this year, his Thanksgiving is going to look quite different in contrast with years prior, due to the ever-increasing COVID-19 cases and family members unavailable for the holiday for their own health. He commented on the current status of coronavirus and its implications for safety when asked whether he thought it was safe to celebrate, noting, “Not necessarily, it’s dangerous to see people at all right now, so it’s not really safe to celebrate right now.” 

Usual plans for Thanksgiving have been canceled for Wise. “I would usually go down to Evansville to see family and friends, but we definitely won’t this year because it’s pretty dangerous and a lot of people are at stake,” he elaborated. Wise seemed quite nonchalant about many of the changes, not seeming quite shocked by them, or quite angered by them, but rather saw them as the only appropriate path for a time like this. He acknowledged that he wouldn’t be seeing his great-grandmother for Thanksgiving, stating, “I would usually see my great-grandma this Thanksgiving, but now I can’t because the nursing homes have been locked down.” 

Wise continued on about the avoidance of certain relatives, explaining, “I will probably avoid most of my relatives that are a bit older, because they have an easier chance of getting COVID and having serious problems with it.” When asked if he would try to contact and/or reach out to relatives virtually, he answered quite comically, saying, “Probably not, no offense to them, but they probably don’t know how to work a computer and do things like that.” Wise did not have much to comment on or note about the circumstances, but rather saw the entire approach to this year’s Thanksgiving quite clinically. He went onto illustrate what he was thankful for this Thanksgiving. “I am thankful that I can still see my family instead of missing out on seeing them because of COVID and I am glad I haven’t lost any family members to COVID.” Wise’s Thanksgiving hopefully went well, and if you’re a bit older, be sure to ask him how to use a computer and do things like that, since you might not know how to. All jokes aside, with the struggle this year has been for many, the prospect of the New Year is intoxicatingly relieving, and that certainly seems to be the case for Mr. Bill McKenna.

McKenna is a Radio/TV instructor at GCHS as well as a director at NineStar Films, known for his incredible work ethic and palpable passion for film. He has faced quite the brunt of virtual learning, struggling to stay above water through the sea of absent students and missing assignments, not to mention the constant changing of tide through new hybrid plans that seem to be scrapped and replaced continuously. McKenna appears exasperated at the current rate of inconveniences and deeply-rooted issues that come about with a virtual alternative. He expressed deep fears for the upcoming Christmas season, stating, “It does worry me; travel will be very dangerous. I will not be going anywhere.” McKenna also mentioned adjustments and dramatic changes to his Christmas plans. “My nephew is supposed to be in a bodybuilding contest. I have already told him I can’t make the trip. No Christmas parties this year, no dinners out, no movies, no theatre, nothing other than work and home.” 

The effects of COVID-19 seem to be affecting McKenna in more ways than most people. In a very unfortunate turn of events, his mother contracted COVID-19 and was taken to the hospital. He was naturally affected very severely by this. “My mother was taken to the hospital today,” he revealed before her positive test results had gotten back to him. “She has COPD. She may have COVID or pneumonia. I am seriously worried. I am also old, it could kill me. If she gets it, it will kill her.” The year of 2020 has weighed heavily on McKenna. His mother’s condition continues to decline and her health wanes. When asked how his mother was doing since the interview, he simply said, “Not good… not good at all.” A very grim situation that only seems to worsen. 

Hybrid learning has illuminated many realities for the well-experienced teacher, McKenna explained, especially about his relationship with some of his students. When asked what hybrid learning has taught him about teaching and his students, he answered, “The students will lie to me. They will assure me they are working at home, yet they do nothing for an entire week. Proof is in the projects. It’s a serious disrespect, so it hurts to know so many of my students think so little of me.” The statement above is likely something that has been illuminated to many teachers working in these circumstances. With all that considered, McKenna plans to whip the situation into shape for the new year, elaborating, “More firm due dates. Students will have to adapt to the assignment and due dates more. Pushing due dates back did not get better results. I expect students to step up more. Teachers are working harder than ever; students are not.” McKenna addressed the school administration’s approach to the current coronavirus situation, expressing his praises for the administration’s response and directing his frustration elsewhere. “What our administrators have done is great. They put a system in place that works. But parents and students must do their part, no excuses. GCHS teachers have done their job, as have our administrators.”

Even with all of the aforementioned above, McKenna still holds out a glint of optimism for the turn of the new year. “I’m tired of the chaos. I’m sickened by the hate; as a nation we are better than this. I hope we will start to look out for each other. We need stability, not ego. Outside of that, I am not optimistic for much.”

COVID-19 has clearly struck the lives of plenty in even just the Greenfield area, from inventive adjustments to Halloween attractions, to shrinking and risky Thanksgivings, and to soured and potentially nihilistic Christmases. Once familiar and unchanging circumstances have been in a whiplash of systemic change after systemic shake-up, leaving many dizzy and uncertain of where to go from here. Cases continue to rise, fears of infection increase, and the sense of a soon-to-be-implemented lockdown grows. All most can do is waft through the swamp of coronavirus complications and unindicative instruction from the government, while they struggle to stay afloat above the threat of poverty, poor grades and education, and tragic losses of friends and family. May the turn of 2020 to 2021 be also a turn of a new leaf, and that by some miracle, the coronavirus can be put to rest.