School during a pandemic; the reality of online high school
March 21, 2021
Going into completely virtual school year has caused a lot of challenges for staff and students alike. After the pandemic struck in early 2020, students, administrators, and staff were forces to adhere to a completely new form of schooling. And as to be expected, it was a tough school year. The following stories share a glimpse into what online high school was really like for all that participated.
Teachers share how students having their cameras off is a challenge
In 2020 students had to make major adjustments in light of the pandemic causing students to do school from home. It must be recognized that teachers had to go through this same change also. Virtual learning comes with many challenges, especially for the teachers trying to navigate this new learning format. Putting together lesson plans and teaching through a virtual screen can be hard especially when it’s different than what they are used to.
A challenge that teachers have faced while in this new learning format has been students not turning their cameras on. This can be very difficult for example, Mrs. Pena, says, “It is hard to teach and concentrate when I am just looking at black spaces with colorful dots and initials.”
It seems to be a common opinion among teachers that it can be very strenuous and difficult for them when students keep their cameras off but some of the teachers have said they do understand that there are certain situations that call for a camera to be off. For example, Mr. Belloso, says, “I understand that not all students are comfortable with having their cameras on for a variety of reasons. Some reasons may include but are not limited to, a home environment that they are not comfortable publicly displaying, other responsibilities that they have to tend to during class (ex. babysitting), or self-consciousness about their image.” While they understand these circumstances it can be entirely difficult having a majority of their students have their cameras off if they can have it on.
Students, school is different and its hard. And I understand that I don’t know how you might be feeling or what you might be going through. Just know that we want to be here for you any way we can.”
— Mr. Belloso
A big challenge that teachers have to deal with is how they “have absolutely no idea whether or not students are engaged, paying attention, learning, and even present.” Mr. Crisafi says. Students could be video gaming, sleeping, or playing on their phones and the teachers have no idea and this can be worrisome as teachers try to provide an adequate education to their students. Mrs. Yu even says, “I watched one of my students tuck herself/himself back into bed after s/he logged into the meeting.” According to teachers, this is not an unusual occurrence. So to ensure engagement Mrs. Lord, says, “I end up having to repeat myself, hound students for work, and generally take extra measures to get work from students and ensure engagement, since I cannot see if they are on task, working, etc. There is no way to adjust completely, but I use the chat, polls, and other methods of proving engagement. I also monitor student work on collaborative or shared documents.
While doing virtual learning you can not rely on verbal communication like you could when teachers were in the traditional learning setting. In the traditional learning setting, Mr. Engstrom, says, “It is difficult to gauge students’ mood, engagement, and understanding. There are a lot of non-verbal cues that teachers rely on when teaching students and when the students’ cameras are off, we have to try to get a feel for these things through verbal or written communication.” This can be tough for teachers because without reading their student’s expressions they cannot change their approach if necessary, for example; Mrs. Lord, says, “I rely on seeing their reactions to gauge how well they are understanding or to determine whether I need to slow down, speed up, repeat, etc.”
Focus on getting 1% better everyday and over time you will be amazed at what you can achieve. Mathematically speaking, if you improve 1% each day, after one year you will be 37x better than when you started!”
— Mr. Engstrom
Another challenge they are faced with is “the ability to build a supportive relationship with students,” according to Mr. Belloso. The ways in which he tries to build a relationship with his students in this new work environment is, “having simple, respectful conversations with students (individually and as a group) about the importance of academics. I have contacted students via phone & Remind to just chat about how they are doing. I’ve also simply asked my students for feedback about the class and their needs.” He also has begun a reward system to motivate students and it focuses on “student contribution and collaborative learning,” and they can be entered in the raffle to win prizes like gift cards and snacks which provide motivation towards the students.
Per district policies, teachers cannot make it mandatory for cameras to be on but they still ask that if you can have your camera on that you do so. Teachers work very hard and do their best to put together lesson plans to provide a quality education because they care about their students. So if you can turn your camera on they ask that you please turn it on. Even if it is only half your face. That alone makes a difference. If you cannot turn your camera on due to your situation just make sure to stay interactive with the lesson and stay away from your video games and your bed comforter. You can be interactive by answering questions, asking questions, and giving some sign of life.
My experience being on the dance team as a rookie during COVID-19
“This is my first year on the Dance Team and the experience I have had so far is not what I was expecting. I took dance classes freshman through junior year and decided to try out for the dance team my senior year. Last year, when we were still on campus, I would always see how all the dancers had such a tight bond with each other, they always looked like one giant group of friends. Watching them perform at rallies while dancing as one was always, truly, mesmerizing. Them being able to dance together in unison was the result of their great communication and their close bond with each other which allowed them to put on a great performance. When I joined this year I was really looking forward to bonding with the other dancers while we got to compete together. I was also looking forward to making great memories, especially at the annual Friendsgiving and Christmas parties but due to the spike in COVID-19 cases, all the events were canceled. So I never got the chance to make those fun memories that I know I would have cherished forever. During class periods we get a lot of work done, for example, working on our choreography and perfecting our technique. So of course the dance aspect of the class is still there while in virtual learning. We have all been working hard for our nationals competition which unfortunately has been pushed back to May 1 as of now. We are not certain if the event will be taking place in person, virtually, or even at all but I haven’t lost hope. It does suck not knowing what the future holds and from time to time I do feel disconnected from everyone else. There are mornings where I do not want to get out of bed for dance class yet I still wake up every Monday and Wednesday because I care about the team. Meeting the other dancers through a zoom call was already out of the ordinary for all of us and as a rookie, I especially felt alienated. I think if we were physically going back to school we would all feel comfortable with each other and I would have created great friendships with all of them. However, as of now it feels almost as if the rookies are still the new kids. The coaches and captains do their best to make sure everyone remains connected but the fact that I have never had an actual conversation with half of the members is saddening. Dance class is very engaging and I do my best to make sure I participate because I will not allow this pandemic to take everything away from me. As a senior, I have already lost so much and for this being my first and last year being on the dance team, I think I’ve made the most of the experience but it’s definitely different from what I had in mind.”
Students feel unprepared for AP exams this year because of online learning
As AP students are further into the second semester their AP tests creep around the corner and since school is online students are wondering if the AP tests will be too. Despite AP exams being online and greatly modified last minute the prior year, it still seems to be a topic of conversation on it being an advantage or disadvantage if they are online.
The environment of learning this year has been entirely different than any other school year for students since learning has had to be modified and changed. This new learning environment has been a blessing or a curse for a lot of AP students. It can be worrying since the AP tests are coming up soon. The students have decided to share if they feel this is an advantage they have been given or if it is the complete opposite.
There are a lot of differences in learning AP material in the classroom and online, according to the students. In the classroom it was a lot more motivating because “the class became a community, we all were supportive and we motivated each other to study and learn all the material.” and now it seems like, “we’ve all become independent and attempt to motivate ourselves now,” says Luna Manriquez-Moran.
Nelson Oliveros also says, “Before COVID, being in class involved collaborating with both the teacher and peers which was truly beneficial.” This seems to be the opposite for students while online, “While most teachers put in an effort for us to collaborate during all this, it feels different and still doesn’t flow well.” This causes a big difference and how students are learning and if they don’t feel like they are getting a great education as before this can hinder their AP scores which can become worrisome.
The worries that are being expressed by the students about taking the AP tests online are there being too many distractions in their household and potential technical difficulties. For example, Jaylene Gutierrez, says, “We are more likely to get distracted… I have three other siblings in school and that makes learning harder. If you get distracted, you begin to lose focus and you may not get the grade you could have if you were in school.” Focus is very important in order to excel on exams and this can be hard for students with a rambunctious household. Regarding technical difficulties, “It is a little nerve-racking because doing an exam online allows for technical difficulties and could potentially affect the outcome of my AP exams,” says Yesenia Cazares.
This entire school year has been completely different and all we could do is give it our all. We have made it this far despite the tough challenges we have been met with, don’t get discouraged. Make sure to take care of your well-being and take lots of breaks, we got this!”
— Jazmine Coto
There were a mix of answers when it came to asking if the students were ready for their AP exams. Some of the students said they are and even raved about their AP teacher, for example, “I love Mr. Belleso! He is such a good teacher.” but others have the opposite feelings. Which has been due to lack of motivation, burnout, and the different learning format which has been a struggle to some. “I feel like my motivation has lacked a lot recently the second semester and it’s just the fact of feeling burnt out and overwhelmed,” says Xiomara Aguilar. The learning format before was “better explained,” “spaced out,” and “help was more accessible,” according to Melia Capoccia.
Despite the student’s feeling like they are not prepared, their appreciation for their teachers is beyond words that can be expressed. They know the teachers are trying to give them the best education possible due to the circumstances with the resources they have and that has not gone unnoticed. “I’ve seen my teachers do anything and everything they can to adjust their in-person teaching style to better fit the current circumstances and that is something truly admirable. It’s watching them work hard for us that motivates me as well because it helps me understand that students are not the only ones struggling,” says Adilene Cisneros Lopez. This is one of the many similar remarks students have made about their AP teacher’s efforts.
When you are living a life you are not used to because it changes so abruptly it can be very difficult. All of these high school students have been going to school for their whole life up to this point but with everything that has been thrown in their path, they have pushed through. The online AP exams are just one more barrier that will be conquered which is possible because students have done it time and time again. If you are worried, stressed out, or have anxiety about passing the exam, Xiomara Aguilar wants to remind you, “All you can do at this point in time is try your best and do whatever you can to reach the score you want…If you pass, that’s great. And if you fail, that’s okay. Everyone has a purpose in life and a score can’t define who you are as a person. So just keep on pushing through and you’ll be able to accomplish whatever you put your mind to.”