Virtual fail: Online school schedule creates new learning challenges

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Erich Miller

The virtual schedule takes a lot of personal planning to keep on track–for both teachers and students.

by Abbey Sovero, Reporter

The short URL of the present article is: https://lhslance.org/zfobv

With school online, students sleep later each day, as there are no big yellow school buses waiting for them in the mornings. Although the cold dark mornings and unappealing lunches are gone, life with virtual learning has plenty of setbacks.

The world has had to adapt in the last six months, and the FCPS schedule has adapted along with it. The Frederick County Board of Education voted on October 7 to continue virtual learning until January 2021.

With midterm grades behind us, and the end of Term 1 less than a month away, students (and parents) have to make the virtual shift work–there’s no going back (yet).  Maybe it’s not the virtual school, though, so much as people love to complain.  It’s easier to find fault than praise.

Probably 90% of students are fine academically, but the small group of “not fine” would often be struggling face to face, too. The virtual school magnifies the problem.

There’s no doubt that the virtual school schedule has been more challenging for some students. Among those students is junior Brayden Gregory, who says the schedule is making it harder for him to learn. 

Three Google Meets a week is too few.

“I don’t like this new schedule as much because we only have each class three times a week,” said Gregory. “I feel like I’m not learning as much information and material because we have less class time than before.” 

It’s been difficult for students to go from having 80-minute classes five days a week, to having classes only three days a week.  In addition it gives the perception that there is less work, but the classwork must now be done independently.

Teachers agree that there’s not as much time to teach what needs to be taught, especially on Wednesdays, where students have all four classes, but for a shortened time.

English teacher Natalie Rebetsky specifically dislikes this hump day schedule.  “I find it very hard to teach much in only 30 minutes.  I just get warmed up, and the class period is over,” said Rebetsky. 

The idea of Wednesdays schedule may have appeared to be good at first, but for a lot of teachers and students, it’s just not working. Wednesdays especially, students must move from Google Meet to Google Meet without much recovery time.

PREP is another big change–and not for the better.

Normally, when students needed help with school or needed to catch up on work, they would go to PREP, where they get extra time and help. But with virtual school, PREP is a lot different than it used to be. On Tuesdays and Thursdays, PREP has been dedicated to “social emotional learning.” This is supposed to help with reducing stress for students, by watching videos and having class discussions. 

“I know the real purpose for PREP now is for SEL lessons, but probably the majority of the students are handling the different challenges well that they are experiencing and do not really need this dedicated time,” said Ms. Tracy Bozzonetti, yearbook advisor and art teacher.

Although this has a good intention, the way the PREP class is delivered is variable.  Some teachers are building relationships and others are just checking in.  Some teachers do extra activities–like announcements, SGA activities and more.  Other PREP classes don’t.

For clubs, the new system may be a win.  Attendance virtually can be higher than in person, but students often choose homework over the club.

“Attendance this year especially has been very high. Normally, members don’t show up to meetings and end up signing up and never showing. Students have time now to go to clubs which is great!” said Kelly Alt, secretary of Linganore’s Key Club.

Attendance is definitely something that has been working well for clubs. Although this is a plus, clubs are still struggling. With being online, there are very limited options for clubs to find ways to stay active and busy.

“Officers are having a hard time coming up with ideas, and when there is an idea, it is challenging because of restrictions. Especially for Key Club, when we do activities only a handful of members actually show up, and now being online, most ideas already have to be shot down because it would need to be in person,” said Alt.

Afternoon Small Group Instruction – Is anybody there?

The afternoons are dedicated to small group instruction and tutoring, but students do not take full advantage of that time. Those who don’t need help, don’t go.  Those who do need help are not going either.  That’s frustrating for teachers who want to be sure their students are learning.

“Not many students are coming to my office hours. I average about three students per week, and I usually have to personally invite all of them,” said math teacher Nicholas Sobota.

Ninth grade has it hardest

It easy to feel sad for seniors who are missing their senior year, but they have plenty of other activities like applying to college, getting a job, driving to events.  Freshmen, on the other hand have to take a big learning leap from middle school.  This is a bigger jump when it’s online.

It’s hard for freshmen to get involved in clubs in a regular school year.  Getting involved virtually probably takes a lot more effort.

Upperclassmen:  Reach out to your ninth grade friends and make sure they are OK.