In-person schooling has now been shut down for nearly a year. For teachers and students, the year has been a difficult one.
Chloie Orozco is a senior at Serrano High School. During regular times she is an A and B student. But these are not regular times. “It’s hard,” she says about distance learning. “I can’t stand it.” This year she is in Advanced Placement Calculus. Having to take that class over the internet terrifies her. “I’m a hands-on learner. I need to be in class, and I need my teacher to work with me and sit with me.” There are over 20 other students in the class with her, but since she’s never met any of them, emailing one to ask a question just seems too weird, and thinking about it causes her anxiety.
Ryan Reise is a junior at Serrano. He believes distance learning has been a disaster. “We’re not learning anything in class, and it’s just not the same.” He knows students who used to have a 4.0 GPA, that are now failing multiple classes. The work feels like it’s optional, so it’s causing students to fall behind. “Teachers assume you’re at home doing nothing, so they assign triple the work.” This school year, Reise has not met any of his teachers except for the Cadet Corp instructor, and that is because he has been in the program for several years. For him, it is awkward to email a teacher for instructions or help that he has never met in person.
Sarah Thibodeau has been a teacher for two years at Serrano High School, the same school she graduated from in 2013. She teaches tenth and eleventh-grade history and Advancement Via Individual Determination, a college preparatory program. The most significant difference she has seen in distance learning versus person teaching is that the students are much quieter. When they were on campus, she would have issues keeping them quiet. Now, it feels like she is talking to herself for an hour during class. “I just think in general online learning is not an ideal way for anyone to learn. It’s not an ideal way for a teacher to teach.” “When you’re always at home, it’s hard to separate [school] work and home life balance.” This goes for teachers as well. Since distance learning began, she admits her working hours have increased and that it has gotten a lot harder for her to separate her personal and work life. “So, I’m sure the students are having a hard time separating,” as well. The biggest concern she has for her students going forward is their social development after being separated from their peers for so long. Especially because of the rural nature of the region surrounding the high school.
Another problem schools are facing is that when in-person teaching resumes, some students may return behind academically. Stacy Wallace, a Special Ed ninth-grade English teacher at Serrano, says she has already observed this happening. “I can tell you the students we have this year are already behind from last year.” As a member of the Leadership Team, she knows planning for this school year took into consideration that students may not be caught up because of the interruption transitioning into online learning caused the previous year. Her student’s workload has remained the same. But getting students to do writing assignments online has proven to be more difficult than expected. Wallace’s workdays now begin at 8am when she opens and begins responding to emails. From 8:30-10am, she enters her first class of the day. She starts by reviewing school news and the assignments due that week. Then, she moves into the lesson of the day that includes a silly question “to try to break the ice and get them to communicate with each other.” She ends lessons a half-hour early to leave time for the students to ask questions. She repeats this, three periods a day with an hour lunch in between that allows her to open and send more emails. From 2-3pm, she offers tutoring to students that need extra help. Her workday usually ends between 5 and 6 pm. The most common complaint she has heard from parents is about why their child is failing. For students she notices falling behind, she sends emails to both them and their parents inviting the student to attend her tutoring session. In most cases, the student does not show. But she continues to send the emails.
On February 23th, Wallace and Thibodeau both received the first dose of the coronavirus vaccine along with other teachers at St. Mary’s Medical Center. Also, that day, the SJUSD Board of Trustees supported the reopening of elementary schools in a hybrid form starting March 11th. As of now, there is no expected date for when high schools will reopen, though small cohorts of students have been able to begin in-person instruction on a limited basis.