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Students still enjoy a summer of virtual Governor’s School

For five weeks this past summer, while many students were wondering if they would ever be allowed to leave their houses because of the shutdown, Zachary Gottshall, Rory Oden, Bailey Stilts, Yu Gu and James Koconis spent most of their days attending virtual college courses as part of the Pennsylvania Governor’s School for the Sciences.

And, they all enjoyed it.

“I didn’t know what to expect going in, but it was a lot of fun. I met so many other people across Pennsylvania with similar interests and passions,” said Oden, who attends Muncy High School.

One thing that drew her to pursue attending PGSS is her interest in physics and math and the opportunity that the governor’s school offers to “explore them further,” she added.

For Gottshall, a senior at Hughesville High School, applying to PGSS was something he wanted to do since he first heard about it three years before.

Even though the school had to move to an online format this year because of the pandemic, he said he really enjoyed it.

“I wasn’t sure about the program going into it online, but it was pretty different from regular online school. The people at the governor’s school were there because they wanted to do science and be in school five weeks during their summer vacation,” Gottshall said.

Stilts, too, said he learned a lot at PGSS that he wouldn’t have gotten at his school.

“My school doesn’t have much for the sciences and the sciences are my interest. I thought this was the perfect opportunity to get that experience I was looking for,” he said. Stilts attends Cowanesque Valley High School.

Gu, also felt the program afforded him opportunities that high school doesn’t.

“It had opportunities that you don’t usually have in high school, like research,” Gu, who is a senior at Lewisburg High School said.

For Koconis, working together in a collaborative environment is what really appealed to him about PGSS.

“Even though we were all in our own houses, we’d get together on ZOOM and work through the problem sets and complain about how hard they were,” he said. Koconis also attends Lewisburg High School.

The five attended lectures everyday virtually with 64 other classmates. The studied five areas of the sciences: biology, physics, math, computer science and chemistry. Classes began at 8 a.m. and often the last class of the day ran as late as 8:30 or 9 p.m. Then it was time for homework.

Their time together wasn’t all studying. The program also builds in time for social activities. On night, all the students in the program square danced virtually.

“All of us had to do a square dance on ZOOM together,” Oden said. “They had us broken down into smaller groups and each of our smaller groups had to learn a couple of dances beforehand. Then when all the groups got together on one big ZOOM, they did their own little dances they had learned.”

So what is their biggest takeaway from participating in the program?

For Koconis, it was again, the collaboration.

“In my research project group there were so many people who were also passionate about biology and bio physics. I learned so much just talking and discussing the concepts we were researching,” he shared.

Oden also liked that aspect of the program.

“One of my favorite parts was when we presented our research. So, for a couple of weeks our research group gathered and prepared a power point, but also a research paper we typed up together. I think that’s just an invaluable experience that you can use in college. Not just researching, but working collaboratively to put that together,” she said.

The ability to meet challenges appealed to Gottshall, after covering an entire college semester of work in just weeks.

“Most AP classes cover a college semester in one year, so that means the governor’s school is moving nine times faster. It’s not in full detail and you don’t have to take a test at the end, but that’s still a lot of material,” he said.

“Once you overcome that challenge, it’s hard to see normal high school as difficult anymore,” Gottshall added.

The exposure to a heavier case load and working at a faster pace also highlighted Gu’s time at PGSS.

For Stilts, it was learning better time management and organization.

“I feel like I learned so much, not just about the classes, but about myself. I improved on myself,” he said.

During next year’s session, the five local students will get to meet the other students from across the state as part of a reunion held for the previous year’s alumni.

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