A returning to real learning
Students and staff reflect on the tolls, benefits of remote learning after coming back in person.
By Lucas Vanantwerp
March 13th, 2020 was the beginning of when everything changed.
Students all around the country were sent home for precautionary measures against the Covid-19 virus. Then, last fall, students were required to continue their education virtually for the year. The changes in learning environment led some students to thrive, while others saw negative effects on their academics and health.
“I have a lot of students who have also said, they have anxiety, or they're struggling with depression. Some students said that even if they had it before Covid, with everything last year, and everything with Covid has kind of made it worse,” English teacher Alexa Hayes-Murray said.
Hayes-Murray said that she has noticed changes in her students’ academic performance, which was due to them being at home.
“A lot of [students] pretty much failed everything...[some students] weren't good at, independent learning or missing the social aspects of school, [independent learning] kind of impacted their academics,” Hayes-Murray said.
Hayes-Murray later said she actually changed a policy, which was due to a new eye-opening perspective.
“Last year, I didn't really have a late work policy...you could turn in an assignment whenever because I knew students had so much going on. And I don't think I'll ever go back,” Hayes-Murray said.
Students may have needed a relaxed late work policy for many reasons during remote learning, including technology problems, stress, time management, and things at home.
“It's important to just focus on mastery of learning. Instead of, you know, [a student who] only [could] get a 75 because this was late. Well, that's not really showing me what you know, you might know 100 percent of it, but you got a 75 because it was late,” Hayes-Murray said.
Flexibility allowed grace for students during remote learning, which helped the students have some “grey area” if needed, for a break or even less pressure.
“I think it shows grace and compassion. I think that's what the world needs right now,” Hayes-Murray said.
Biology teacher Bill Hodges noticed similar issues. He said even behind a screen, he could tell his students were not doing well.
“How do you measure [students’] mental health? [It] was almost impossible because very few showed their faces. So [I could tell] stuff was happening, but you couldn't do anything about it,” Hodges said.
Several teachers agreed that many of their students failed their classes, and some even had their grade point averages plummet. Many students didn’t complete their schoolwork, which led to worsening grades.
“So [most of my students] are getting A's or B's, except the ones who don't do anything… [online had] more at the bottom [students with low grades or failing], because they didn't do it.” Hodges said.
Holt Public Schools Director of Mental Health Heather Findley, recognised the challenges both students and teachers faced during remote education. Students struggled to create their own schedules, manage their own time, and learn independently. Most public school students have never been isolated from others, which made remote learning even more difficult. Additionally, teachers faced many challenges with using technology to teach for the first time: creating lessons, teaching from home, getting interaction from students, and not feeling rewarded.
“...For teachers, the biggest thing is trying to educate the students behind the screen. The biggest thing is for students to be so independent, and then also [trying] to get help. It's way harder,” Findley said.
Some students need extra support when attending schools, including those who struggle with their mental health, those who need special education services, and those who rely on the school for meals and safety. Most students depended on the school for extra help outside of education, but then they were forced to return home because of an uncontrollable pandemic.
“If I were to ask you [a student] to do a day's worth of work, and you felt like crap and you felt depressed, how likely is it that you're going to feel like you can engage in what you're doing?” Findley said. “ We can't ask for academic engagement and we can't ask our students to participate actively or well or at their potential when they’re not feeling well.”
Students who struggled with virtual learning may have crippled their ability to be accepted into the school of their choice after high school.
“If you really struggled, per se, with online learning, and say your grades plummet, and then now that really, really hurts your chances of getting into your dream school,” Findley said.
Findley understands the situation that made educational success difficult for some students, and shares empathy towards those whose GPA’s have slipped.
“You have to try that much harder to prove that your grade you earned was not a reflection of your intelligence.” Findley said.
A large number of students were negatively impacted by remote learning, but there were a few that excelled in this change of learning mode.
“[My] mental health was a lot better because I had a lot more free time and more time to get stuff done that had to be done. Physical health was also the best it’s ever been because with all that spare time I spent time outside mountain biking and working.
My sleep schedule was also amazing, I got the most sleep ever because I could wake up later, because school didn’t start until later,” senior Zach Griffin said.
Accountability was a major factor of how well or poorly students handled remote learning; those who can hold themselves accountable in sticking to a schedule, completing work, and managing themselves did well.
“Honestly, when it came to school work, I don’t think that they should implement anything from online learning. Such as no due dates, because this was why I don’t think a lot of [students] learned much. They weren’t forced to do the work without any consequences,” Griffin said.
All of the challenges remote learning had on students caused some students’ mental health to decline, and decreased their motivation to learn or complete assignments.
“It was completely different in freshman year. I had no motivation, I didn't do my work and I wouldn't do a good job on my work. I just didn't really care about school anymore, which is like because a lot of it didn't even matter. So yeah, my grades definitely decreased,” junior Katie Lackman said.
Remote learning at Holt was done through Google Meet, which has the option to turn on and off the camera on a device. As a result, many students had their cameras off most of the time. Without facial expressions present, students were often not as attentive as they would be if they were in person with others.
“I think the problem was I had too much time and I didn't have things to do, so I would just, like, sit around in my room and I’d watch my phone, or during class, I would just sit on my phone because nobody told me that I couldn't. I would have my camera off, I'd be laying in bed sitting on my phone. I had, like, too much free time,” Lackman said.
Lackman explained how she immediately noticed positive changes for herself after returning to school.
“I can see my friends and my grades have already gotten better and I've already got more motivation. Because I can ask my teachers questions in person, and I don't need to turn the meet on and have everybody listen to me,” Lackman said.
Along with the impact on the students’ mental health, their physical health was also affected due to remote learning.
“I can tell kids have been sitting around for a year, yeah. Their attention span, their overall mental ability to sit and listen, or even stand and listen, are, has drastically decreased in the last year,” physical education teacher Jonathan Watson said.
When students returned from remote learning to sports, Watson said he noticed a change of behavior from his athletes.
“So they would show up and their mood would be depressed, [and] if not depressed, definitely down. I don't mean depressed as in like, depression. I mean, depressed as in, like, a lower mood. ...and so, they'd show up and act the way they did from the start of practice, they would be off,” Watson said.
Sitting in front of a computer screen for hours by yourself isn’t good for anyone, be they teachers or students.
“I could just tell it wasn't good. It wasn't good for me, sitting that much in front of the computer. So I can only imagine what it was doing for the kids during that time,” Watson said.
Students and staff both had many reasons to be “down” or in a depressive state mentally, but the lack of physical movement and exercise was also a large factor that was typically overlooked.
“We know that depression is often linked to movement, and the amount of movement that you have, because it helps with chemical imbalances in the brain and all sorts of other good stuff,” Watson said.
Watson explained his opinion on remote learning, and why he knew it was bad for everyone's health.
“I prefer in person, definitely in person. And why is that is I was against remote the whole time. Not because I did not take the virus seriously, but because I can't separate my mind and body. I think we did what was necessary as a society to like weather the storm, so to speak, until the vaccines came out. But now, I would definitely say like we need to be in person and we need to be taking care of our mental health as much as our physical health,” Watson said.
Being back in person allowed everyone to regain a schedule, as well as a sense of normalcy.
“So being back in person allows for students to be out and about and have a schedule, have movement during their day that's built in, not just during PE class. Even moving from your house, to the car or the car, to the school, in between classes,” Watson said.
Teachers are glad to see their students in person again, and getting closer to how their lives were before the pandemic started.
Said Watson, “I'm just happy. Happy to be back. Yeah. Happy. Happy to see them moving and regaining a sense of themselves. So I'm very happy we're back in person.”