The Impossible Plan: Synthesis of Remote Learning Experiences of High School Freshmen

The Impossible Plan: Synthesis of Remote Learning Experiences of High School Freshman is an article about how students and teachers felt about their experience of education during the Coronavirus Pandemic.

By Sophie Imler from Morehead Writing Project in Kentucky

During the Coronavirus Pandemic, students were forced to start remote online learning to stop the spread of the virus. These circumstances caused some freshmen to thrive while others felt very stressed. Through interviewing 10 freshman and 2 teachers, I found that experiences varied from feeling prepared and motivated, feeling excited yet unprepared for virtual calls, preferring in-school versus online school, and beginning to make preparations for next year during this confusing time. These past 3 months have been very hard on all students but is taking a closer look at how education continued during this pandemic, it is easy to see how online-school couldn’t work for everyone.

Lena Mannarelli, a 2019-2020 freshman at North Oldham High School in Oldham County, Kentucky said, “My overall experience with NTI was that the work was very easy but it was hard to learn because teachers did not communicate with the students very well.” Like many others, Mannarelli felt that she was not as challenged as she would have been had school continued with in-person instruction, as she felt the work she was getting was “busy” work. On the other hand, Morgan Holt, a freshman at Traverse City West Senior High in Traverse City, Michigan claimed, “My experience with online school was very positive. The work I had to do was much less than if I was attending school, and I found that nice.” Holt, along with other freshmen, liked having less work and found it less stressful than before. It gave them more time to focus on other little things in their life they didn’t have time to focus on before.

When it comes to feeling prepared and motivated for next school year Lena Mannarelli responds,“I do not feel as prepared for next year since we weren’t in school because my teachers gave us easy work and rarely taught us, making my NTI school day only an hour or two hours long where if I were in school I would have seven hours of learning and working. I did not feel motivated at all because it was easy little assignments or worksheets that were just a waste of time. I was also unmotivated because my teachers would post assignments throughout the day making it harder to just focus on my work at once.” When asked what teachers tried to do to keep students engaged, Jennifer Holvey, an English 1 and AP Seminar teacher at Oldham County High School said “I tried to message and give feedback to let kids know I was actually reading their work”.

Some students do not like how there was less work, and the work assigned was seen as mostly “busy” work. “I don't think I am as prepared because I don't think I was challenged enough and I wasn't motivated,” says Eliza Marcum, a freshman at Oldham County High School. Neave O’Callaghan, a freshman at Ballard High School in Louisville, Kentucky said, “I don’t feel as if I'm as prepared, because it was mostly just busy work instead of actual learning.” On the other hand, Coral Grist, a freshman at Oldham County High School, thinks she is prepared for next year, saying, “I was able to spend more time on school and able to prepare myself better.”

When asked about how students felt about synchronous class meetings through video calls, many found them to be beneficial for instruction, or just to catch up with teachers and students. “I liked that it was an opportunity to see my classmates and my teachers,” said Lexi Brown, a freshman from Oldham County High School. “If I didn't have the calls, I wouldn't know what I was learning,” said Lucy Doyle, a freshman who attends Christian Educational Consortium(CEC) in Louisville, Kentucky. Her school's approach was to have Webex calls for the length of their usual classes on Tuesdays and Wednesdays. Since CEC is a private school, a high amount of their students have access to technology and reliable wifi. As for other schools, it has called for every class that might not be an option because there are students who have to share technology with their siblings or don't have technology at all. Rebecca Moehlmann, a Biology and Chemistry teacher at Oldham County High School, said, “I was worried about technology accessibility and then wifi access which would make it really hard for students who aren’t fortunate enough to have technology accessibility, so we gave less work so it wouldn't overwhelm the student and the families with technology issues or say if you had more than one kid at home then you couldn't monopolize the computer.”

Most students also had responsibilities at home. Tasks like taking care of siblings or loved ones often fell on the shoulders of students, which then interfered with learning online. Isabelle Woodruff, a freshman at Oldham County High School, said, “I had to watch over my brothers for a few days but then my parents took off work to help, but there were still responsibilities I had at home that I didn’t have in school.”

Though Morgan Holt thought remote learning was less stressful, she did admit that in-school instruction was better for her learning, saying, “I think online school was not better for my learning because face-to-face instruction is really valuable and it is better for communication, though I think my district did a good job in dealing with the situation.” She concluded the interview by saying, “I think the online school had both good and bad effects on my mental health because it was really hard not to see my friends and work with them, but it was a lot less work to do so it eased my worries a bit.”

Eliza Marcum and Lena Mannarelli both agreed that in-school instruction was better for their mental health. Mannarelli spoke further on this, saying that traditional learning is “better for my mental state because I can be with my friends and socialize because when I don't socialize I forget how to think straight and how to socialize again.” This being said, Lexi Brown and Coral Grist beg to differ. Grist stated that “online school was definitely better for my mental health because it was more flexible”

Every freshman interviewed agreed that in-school education is better for your learning because you can communicate with your teacher and participate in hands-on learning. “I think that being at school is probably better for me just because I enjoy asking the teachers a lot of questions and having discussions with my peers because I like to debate things and work out how I'm thinking through things,” said Grist. When asked about teacher engagement Isabelle Woodruff said “I feel like when you have a teacher with you, you absorb more and when you are online teachers can't tell how much you absorb.” Tucker Payne, a freshman at Oldham County High School, concurred with Woodruff, saying, “I think it is harder to convey all the information over a zoom call or a Google classroom assignment, plus many people don't have access to technology making it even harder.”

Some teachers are beginning to make preparations for the next school year, should remote learning continue. Jennifer Holvey says, “What I'll do differently is mandatory google meets. It will have to be much more serious like you will have to show up or you are counted absent because you can't go several months at the beginning of the year without communicating with the teacher.”

After hearing all of these different perspectives, one can see that there will never be a perfect plan that works for everyone. It would be near impossible for school boards, schools individually, and teachers to cater to each student’s unique needs when it comes to stress levels, access to technology, responsibilities within their personal lives, and sources of motivation. Though we all endured the same Pandemic, we did not have a shared experience, which can play its own unique role in our education.

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