Students choose between in-person, online learning
This year has taken a turn that no one had expected. One day, students were going to school, hanging out with friends, and going to sporting events. The next, students move to being quarantined in their homes for what seemed like an eternity.
Now, students wonder what will come next, how long they will stay in school, and whether things will go back to normal — before the pandemic.
While some students chose the online learning experience, many students chose to return to the classroom to do their learning in-person, at the school building. However, returning to the school came with many new changes to the way school now operates due to the guidelines placed by the health department, state, and school district; therefore, students had to relearn how to go back to school.
“The hardest adjustment would have to be social distancing. I was used to walking to lunch with my friends and sitting by them. Now, we have to spread out and it was hard to get used to,” sophomore Sonya King said.
Another big adjustment has been wearing the masks. With as many rules and regulations that come with the masks alone, it can be hard to keep track of when to put them on and when to take them off.
“It has been really hard to get used to. We’re obviously not used to wearing masks around school, or anywhere else, so it’s just a lot to keep track of. My classes all differ on the mask policy, too. I have some classes that are socially distant enough to take them off, some that we have to wear them all the time, and some where we get mask breaks,” junior Mella Neace said.
While it may differ for each student, many chose the traditional learning experience because of the social aspect, such as getting to see their friends, connecting with teachers, and the ease of moving from the classroom to one’s extracurricular activities after school.
“The thing I enjoy most about traditional learning is the social aspect of if. I really like getting to see my friends each day and being able to connect with them on a daily basis without having to make outside plans,” junior Johnathan Perkinson said.
Slowly, students learn to get used to the way things are now and are falling into normalcy.
Teachers work to adapt to in-person, online classes
Teachers, too, continue to have to change their plans and adapt to all the new changes and guidelines that are thrown at them. This year, teachers not only have to manage their in-person classrooms, they have to manage their virtual classrooms to accommodate online students. Each week, teachers have to create online content on Canvas, so students can learn using modules whether in-person or online. The teacher continues to teach in-person, but the online learner learns the same lessons being taught in the classroom, synchronously.
During the school day for 30 minutes, teachers have to host Google Meet sessions and answer emails or Canvas messages to help with online students during the school day and in the evenings. On top of that, teachers have to keep up with grading and following up with students to make sure they have a successful year.
With all the new requirements and performing twice as much work, some teachers struggle with finding a balance between managing their online students and their in-person students.
“I feel that my in-person students get the most attention because they are present with me in class and so they will ask me questions that I can address immediately. Whereas, my online students do not get that benefit, and my response time lags because I am most concerned about in-person students since they are present. Also, figuring out ways to deliver direct instruction to my online students in a timely manner is challenging,” chemistry teacher Deonna Puckett said.
Another issue has been finding ways to teach that correlate to students’ learning styles, so that they are able to get the most out of their lessons.
“I teach two different levels of classes. I have kids that I’ve had before in my AP Environmental class, and then, I have kids that I’ve never had before and don’t know anything about in my chemistry class,” chemistry teacher Alex Johnson said. “I would definitely say with those chemistry kids that it’s hard to gauge the type of learning they’re doing and what type of learning they are to know if they’re being successful online.”
Online students try to stay on task while at home
This year, students had the opportunity to choose between online learning and in-person learning — that is something that is not only new to our school district but to many other school districts around the world. Any students or parents who did not feel completely comfortable going or sending their child could opt for eLearning.
“The biggest factor that went into that decision [online learning] is the Coronavirus still being as big as it is,” junior Ginny Allen, a virtual student, said.
Some students, however, chose eLearning based solely on the fact that it is what works best for them. One thing that senior Shaye Ritchison enjoyed most about online learning is the freedom.
“I like being able to schedule when I’m going to do my assignments, and I like being able to work on them throughout the day. I always used to get so bored in class, and I would just waste all my time, but I feel a lot more productive at home,” Ritchison said.
Along with the freedom that comes with online learning, Ritchison also likes that she is able to focus more on her school work.
“In school, I always talk to everyone, and never pay attention to what’s going on. At home, I can control my environment and make sure I’m focusing,” Ritchison said.
However, online learning takes discipline and dedication, and some find it difficult to balance life, working more than part-time hours or participating in extracurriculars, and staying motivated to finish their work while at home.
Some students have found they do not have the same grades, even lower grades, than they did if they were coming to school in-person. “Right now, my grades aren’t as good as I’d like them to be,” Ritchison said. “But, I couldn’t say I blame that on the fact that it’s online. My classes this year are a little more challenging, considering I am a senior now.”
Parents deal with disconnect between classroom, home
Students and teachers are not the only ones affected by COVID-19. All of the changes heavily affect the way parents look at school.
Many parents have specific reasoning behind their decision to keep their students at home to do online school.
“It was because my youngest daughter has a low immune system, so we had to keep her home to keep her from getting the COVID-19 because she cannot have the medicine without it making her sicker,” said Deanna Rose, mother of a SHS online student Catherine Rose and an elementary online student.
This year with the way COVID-19 affects each person differently, those populations who are at greatest risk must isolate as much as possible. If those at greatest risk are living at home with students, families had to prioritize the health of their loved ones above attending in-person.
With all of the changes and risks, returning to school whether online or in-person adds extra stress to parents, leaving many questions unanswered. Parents have to figure out childcare, meals during the day, and help for their child with school on top of their pre-existing responsibilities.
During the start of governor’s stay-at-home orders in March, parents found themselves at odds trying to figure out their students’ homework, daily lessons, and where to go to see grades and progress. Memes and other internet viral videos showed parents teaching their students how to do math the way they learned it 20 or more years ago, not the number of different methods used today to help all learners figure out how they can best solve the problem on the paper.
With the amount of technology, parents found it hard to keep up with all the tools available, so they could help their students at home finish assignments or learn the material. Parents also had trouble trying figure out what their students were doing each day and how to check grades and progress. Many parents had never setup observer accounts on Canvas to track their child’s work online until the spring stay-at-home time happened. Parents sent emails and called the school to make sure their children were staying up-to-date on tasks and keeping their grades on track.
This year, the issues of the spring were addressed with the redesign of how content was delivered to students, making it easier for parents to track progress. Teachers had to created modules, so parents could easily see the green checkmarks of completion beside each task their student finished.
The communication for parents and students has become easier as students can send Canvas messages or emails to teachers. They can also join daily Google Meets to have a dedicated time to ask questions with their teachers.
With high school students, however, the situation is a little different. Most high school students are completely capable of taking care of themselves for a day and completing their own work.
“We didn’t really have any issues or challenges. If Lily had questions, the teachers responded via her Canvas messages,” said Paula Walsh, mother of SHS student Lily Walsh.