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The new normal- 04/16/2021

By Kevin Taylor

Alma Schools 


It’s 5:27 a.m. as Jacob Machen hits the floor, barefoot and sleepy, his mind processing the day’s order of business. The Alma senior begins ruffling through his drawer for his Sonic uniform. 


It’s time to cook. 


Up before the roosters and out the door before the morning paper is delivered is a routine Machen has played out for nearly a year - up at dawn, working for three hours, then racing home to complete that day’s English assignment. 


On the days he isn’t playing left field for the Alma Airedales’ baseball team, Machen steers his Hyundai Elantra back to the Alma Sonic. 


It’s time for the dinner rush. 


The COVID-19 pandemic was many things to many people. For Jacob Machen, it became an opportunity too good to pass up. 


“Before the (baseball) season started, there would be days when I’d work a shift in the morning, come home and do school work, and then go back and work a shift at night,” Machen said. “Plus, you’re working on the weekends, too.”


Last fall, as Machen was settling into his senior year of high school, he averaged between 25 and 30 hours a week at the Alma Sonic. 


“Last summer I started a new job, so yes, it was very tempting to go all-remote and try to make a bunch of money and save up for college,” Machen said. “I had to learn to manage my time, too. Every free second I get throughout the day, I need to make sure I’m doing something positive.”


“He (Machen) works 30 hours a week and that would have never happened without (the pandemic),” Alma baseball coach Brian Fry said. “I think he pays for his own (car) insurance; I think he tries to provide for his family as much as he can.


“He’ll leave practice and go straight to work.”


Those long days in the kitchen, and the money, wouldn’t haven’t happened without Machen being allowed to finish his final year of high school as an all-remote student. 


The new normal, courtesy of a pandemic no one saw coming“Oh no, absolutely not,” Machen said. “The shifts I worked, I worked three hours in the morning and then three hours in the evening. With school, and then baseball, it wouldn’t have worked.”


But, as Machen prepares to play out his final high school games, it did work. 


“You have to find time during the day to get stuff done,” he said. “On the weekend, if you have some time, you have to make time to work. 

“You can’t really afford to procrastinate; you have to block stuff out to make sure it gets done.”


“Machen has always been a self-motivated student,” Kimberly Dickens, his English teacher, said. “Jacob has always exhibited a sweet, respectful demeanor.”


While the COVID-19 pandemic produced a number of new terms for schools - “Zoom,” “remote learning” and “flex day” - teachers and administrators are still, a year later, trying to make work. 


But what works for some doesn’t work for others.


“There have been a couple of things to come out of this, with that (work) being one of them,” Mannesseh Moore, Machen’s senior counselor, explained. “Our juniors and seniors have had the opportunity to work, to do internships … to do some things they wouldn’t have had, had they been at school all day long. 


“We have seen some of them be very, very successful with that.”


Working 30 hours a week and still earning a spot on the school’s All-Academic roster wasn’t easy, Machen said. 


“That’s something I take a whole lot of pride in,” he said. “I’ve really worked hard in the last four years to try and keep my grades up. No matter what, grades come first. 


“I’m proud to be able to hold onto that.”


Two months ago, though, in the weeks before spring break, Machen scuffled somewhat - so much so that Dickens reached out.


“He (Machen) struggled a little bit at times this year, but once he received a little motivational speech, he hopped right back to his normal high-achieving self,” Dickens said. “He works hard and is diligent in whatever task he is presented with.”


“There was a point during the year when I was really having a hard time,” Machen said. “My grades dropped for a while, and I had to go talk to some teachers and get some stuff figured out, because I had started procrastinating and waiting until later. I realized that I needed to graduate. 


“I can’t really afford to wait until Sunday night at 8 o’clock to start doing work.”


Machen is among a handful of Alma baseball players, including Caden Gifford, Tyson Shepherd, and Axl Spain, who chose to finish the 2020-21 school year as remote students. 


Machen will graduate with money in his pocket. 

Jacob Machen


Alma senior Jacob Machen has been a successful remote student in 2020-21. 

“It takes a lot of dedication and hard work, perseverance, and especially time management to be successful with that,” Moore said. “I think a lot of our kids have prioritized their job over the school. I think they think, ‘Well, I can work and make my money and come home after school,’ but they’re not used to eight-hour workdays.


“We’ve got some (students) working 40 hours a week, and then trying to do their work on the evenings or the weekends, and they’re tired.”


Is this the future?


There are other things to consider for those who chose remote, including missing out on the regular daily high school life that is high school. 


“We need to have opportunities for these kids who can handle it, but it kind of hurts my heart because I feel like they need to be kids,” Moore said. “These are the years in their lives when they’re still able to be free a little bit. I think some of them have grown up, whether they were forced to or they chose to.”


Alma principal Brian Kirkendoll said next year’s remote students will be a select number who will be allowed - and only then - if they have a solid GPA. 


“The remote option will not be there for next year,” Kirkendoll said. “We will have a virtual option, and we’re still working on a virtual plan. That will be available for those students who have shown a plan for being able to do well academically - make good grades, no grades below a C, and are on track to graduate.


“We have had a lot of remote students this year that have not been successful.”


Kirkendoll expects the virtual option numbers to be minimal. 


“There have been several ways students have looked at this,” Kirkendoll said. “We had another student who has been remote who liked the flexibility and freedom. She’s flourished, but that has not been the norm. 


“There have been new skills that have been developed and learned because of this.” 


A baseball life 


All things considered, Machen’s baseball career has been a success this spring. Despite its 5-15 record, Alma has won five more games than it did during Machen’s sophomore season. 


He and fellow seniors Zach Holt, Ledger Anderson, and Josiah Weaver have done everything Fry has asked of them. 


“I feel like, especially with Zach, Ledger, and Josiah, we’ve been through a lot with the team,” he said. “Obviously, we want to win more games; we always want to do better and compete. It means the world to us that we were able to be competitive.”


Machen’s is batting .243 with a .420 on-base percentage. The right-handed hitting left fielder has also knocked in six runs (second-best among regulars) and has reached base 23 of the 50 times he’s batted.


“Jacob has been good for us,” Fry said. “Having him hit where he does (ninth in the batting order) is like having another leadoff hitter.”