Students use free time during stay-at-home to develop diverse hands-on pastimes
School closures, prohibition of mass gatherings, and the stay-at-home directive for Marylanders in response to the COVID-19 pandemic have brought the usual extracurricular activities of area students to a grinding halt.
Without lessons, rehearsals and performances, or practices, conditioning and athletic events to attend, many area kids are using their newfound time to discover or reconnect with other hands-on activities and interests.
Summer Righter, 14, of Keedysville, is a freshman at Boonsboro High School who cheered for the junior varsity squad during the fall season and for varsity in the spring. The squad's last cheer competition was cancelled due to COVID-19 restrictions.
With unusual free time on her hands, Summer has turned to and expanded on a familiar comfort to keep her busy.
“I've been baking since I was little. Both my mom's parents and my dad's parents, when I would spend time with them, we would bake stuff or I would help them in the kitchen,” she said. “I've always liked cooking, and recently I've been baking a lot more because I like doing it. It's kind of like a stress reliever.”
Though she's had solid cooking and baking skills for years, Summer said she has been branching out into more challenging recipes. The first thing she baked during quarantine was a homemade lemon meringue pie.
“I spent four hours. I messed up the filling the first time and had to throw it away. That was kind of upsetting. But it's ok,” she said.
While she used to bake familiar cookies and basic recipes, in recent weeks she has moved on to from-scratch offerings including apple strudel bars, brownies and a vanilla cake with chocolate icing for her dad's birthday.
“It turned out good. We still have some in the freezer. We couldn't eat it all. It's just three of us,” she said.
In an effort to avoid unnecessary trips to the grocery store during quarantine, Summer's mom, January Righter, has been making suggestions on what to bake based on what the family already has at home.
“One time she said, 'Oh, I have a lot of carrots. Why don't you make a carrot cake?' Or we had old bananas, so I made banana bread and a banana cake,” Summer said.
Due to dietary needs of her family, she typically uses gluten-free four. It's taken some trial and error to learn what works and what doesn't.
“I tried to make cinnamon bread with gluten-free flour. That didn't work out so well,” she said.
Summer said she believes her time in the kitchen not only gives her something useful to do during quarantine, but will be valuable in the long term as well, as it involves attention, focus, scientific concepts and problem-solving.
“I mean, I don't think I'm going to open a bakery or anything, but I can apply those skills to other things,” she said.
Summer also sees value in young people learning to entertain themselves and to spend time alone, skills she said many young people today don't have.
“Honestly, I don't do that very well. I love to be social and to interact, but people definitely do need to learn to be by themselves,” she said. “It's good for your mental health to take a step back.”
Cody Booth, 12, of Hancock, is a seventh-grade magnet student at E. Russell Hicks Middle School. He used to play baseball in the spring, but the last couple of years, his interests have centered increasingly on hunting.
Cody's dad, Travis Booth, is an avid hunter who has brought home in the ballpark of 70 turkeys in his lifetime. None of them, though, have matched the prize bird Cody brought home this past weekend. Cody went out for Maryland's Junior Turkey Hunt Season on April 11 and bagged a 23-and-1/2-pound bird with an 11-and-1/2-inch beard, a sizable kill by any account.
“I killed my first turkey when I was 5, and another when I was 11,” Cody said. “I learned more this year about turkeys because I'm more into it. Whether it's deer or turkeys or anything, the more you are into it, you start learning more about it.”
How he acquired the big bird this year while out with his dad and his dad's friend is a “crazy story.”
“We were in the blind all morning until, like, 10,” Cody said. “We decided to leave. We weren't hearing much so we got out.”
The three picked up all their decoys, packed up and started to leave.
“My dad turns around in the field beside the one we were in and about 300 yards up, there was a turkey,” he said. “There was a hedge row in between. I grabbed my shotgun, my dad grabbed the call and my dad's friend grabbed the strutter decoy.”
They three crawled through the hedges, his dad's friend moving the male decoy and his dad using the hen call.
“Turkeys are in the middle of mating season now,” Cody said. “He saw that decoy and heard the call, and sure enough, he started walking right toward us. From the other side of the mound, here he comes. He was strutting his fans out. He was mad.”
The turkey's head changed colors as he gobbled at the decoy trying to fight.
“When they are mad, the blood rushes to their heads. His head was ruby red,” Cody said. “During mating season, all they are really worried about is getting that woman. He thought, 'I'm gonna go get her.' My dad hits the call one more time, and boom! I shot him. He just flopped over. That was it.”
Cody noted that he learns a lot from hunting, not only hunter safety, but scientific concepts about animals and the environment.
“I learned on that hunt that turkeys' heads change colors. I had no clue that happened until my dad explained to me,” he said.
He watched his dad prepare the bird, then they froze the meat to eat in the days ahead.
Kenna Ruark, 14, of Hagerstown, has been filling her time pursuing a variety of interests, among them, archery. Unlike Cody, she is not interested in hunting animals but just in the practice of the sport. She aspires to become a veterinarian.
A freshman in the musical theater program at Barbara Ingram School for the Arts, most of Kenna's time outside of school typically is spent at rehearsals and dance classes. Most recently, she was preparing for the BISFA production of “The Addams Family,” which was planned to open this Friday. The musical was to run six performances over two weekends and has been postponed.
“I love to do archery for sport for fun in the backyard, but I have been super busy and I have not had time to do it,” she said. “I've been interested in it since I was little, but I only started doing it when I was 12.”
Her curiosity about archery was stirred when she saw the 2012 Disney animated film “Brave.” She began to do some research on her own, then took a basic archery course at Antietam Recreation.
“I thought it was pretty fun. I wanted to get better because when I first started I was absolutely horrible,” she said.
Reading the young adult dystopian novel series “The Hunger Games” deepened her interest. She talked to her parents about it, took a few classes and got gear for her birthday.
“I have a quiver, a wrist guard to protect your arm from the string when you let go. I have almost a half-full quiver. A full quiver is 12,” she said. “And I have a foam target that is waterproof so I keep it outside or in the storage room. It's pretty big with four different sides for different levels of shooting.”
Though she misses her friends and activities and felt disappointed by cancellation and postponement of events, the quarantine has some silver linings, Kenna said, including opportunities to spend time with family and to explore interests.
That's exactly what many people are doing.
Cathy Taylor of Waynesboro, Pa., said her children, Timothy, 9, and Abigail, 7, who attend Broadfording Christian Academy, choose to create art every chance they get. They've done paintings, Lego sculptures, marbled paper Easter eggs using shaving cream and food dye, as well as cornstarch-based “oobleck” put inside a balloon to make stress balls.
Sydney Snyder, 17, of Hagerstown, has been working on a bedroom revamp. The South Hagerstown High School junior has been painting walls, furniture and décor, most of which she is repurposing using paint delivered by a local business.
Chip Alsip of Hagerstown said his son Liam, 12, a sixth-grader at Springfield Middle School, wants to fish “eight days a week.”
“Now is a time when you can do things that you really love to do but you normally don't have time to do, when you can learn about different things,” Kenna said. “I think it's important to evolve in your interests and to use free time to expand upon what we know and what we like to do.”
Top photo: Summer Righter, 14, of Keedysville, right, baked a cake from scratch to celebrate the birthday of her dad, Scott Righter, left. Summer has been expanding and honing her baking skills during quarantine. (Submitted photo)