Whether directly or indirectly, most all of us have experienced effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. Students have been hit hard by the ever-changing mandates and regulations. The 2020-2021 school year started off with distance learning throughout San Diego. These first few days of “attending” school consisted of Zoom calls, live virtual interactions, and structured online classes instead of the usual overheard casual conversations in bustling hallways, rustle of papers as teachers hand out assignments, and the notorious bell signaling the end of class. Eight Coronado High School students, one boy and girl from each grade level, were interviewed and asked what each of their perspectives of distance learning were as a way of giving voice to teens who are personally experiencing the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Freshman Gillian Walsh was looking forward to starting high school in the fall, but was disappointed to hear that she would start the next chapter of her life online. “Distance learning feels less stressful than starting actual school, but I would have liked it better if I had started my freshman year in person on campus,” she explained.
Gillian does see some positive aspects of learning virtually. “I like distance learning because you can work from home and you have more time to complete assignments. On the other hand, it is harder to learn things and participate in classes. You can’t interact with people very easily, get into groups, and there are technological issues such as being muted by accident or your screen being frozen,” she described.
Griffin Helfand, also class of 2024, is a competitive soccer player who has a slightly different take on distance learning. “My experience starting high school online has been easier to learn and navigate than what I expected,” he shared. “It is helpful that mostly everyone has their camera on and is paying attention, allowing it to feel like a class. Obviously it isn’t the same as being in person, but I still feel like I am learning the material well.”
Students like Griffin who are able to adapt quickly in different situations do not falter, and even thrive, when faced with unique scenarios such as distance learning. However, after a six-month period of absence from attending school on campus, adjusting to this new learning environment has affected other people differently.
Meghan Kurtz, a sophomore at CHS, is an accomplished athlete as well as a determined student. She is an avid lacrosse and soccer player. “I personally don’t like distance learning too much because by working at home it is easy to get distracted, and it is definitely a lot harder to grasp certain subjects without being in the classroom and being face to face with the teachers,” Meghan shared.
She brings up a noteworthy point about getting distracted easily with family members, pets, and technology close by. With many students sharing a space with siblings, squabbles can ignite easily and distractions are ever present. On the other hand, some students are more comfortable at home in their own study space or bedroom.
Sophomore Zack Hansen is also an athlete who participates in competitive ice hockey. He explained, “I personally do not like distance learning because it limits me from socializing with my peers. One of the things I loved about school was being able to see my friends and meet new people. Distance learning prevents a lot of face to face interaction and hands on learning. Being able to be in the classroom made it easier to focus and easier to learn.”
One of the reasons why attending school is enjoyable for some is because of the social interactions between peers. Friends have the opportunity to connect and chat in classrooms, hallways, and during breaks, but that is not possible in distance learning.
Lana Allari-Smith, class of 2022, is the president of the Best Buddies club at CHS. She also participates in club soccer. “Balancing homework with sports is still the same as during non-distance schooling (so far). I am also prepping for Best Buddies at the high school. Distance learning wise, it is a little harder to meet with our special ed class, but I am hopeful that we will find something that works well.”
With her varied extracurricular activities, Lana has overcome hurdles with distance learning as well as her community involvement. “As long as it is safe to do so, I would definitely like to go back to school as soon as possible – until then I am doing my best adapting to the new learning situation much like students across the country,” she shared.
Junior Jack Jaramillo is a member of Navy Junior Reserve Officers Training Corps (NJROTC), boys beach volleyball, boys indoor volleyball, and Baking Club at CHS. “I don’t really like distance learning all that much because I don’t get the same social interaction as I do with my teachers. I definitely like getting to know my teachers and become kind of friends with them and I don’t get to do that,” he shared.
Jack definitely benefits from the personal connections between teachers and students. The main aspect of school is the teachers themselves, who love to teach and form bonds with their students. When those social interactions are absent, learning the curriculum is not the same. The material is often more lifeless and monotonous when gathering information from a computer screen.
Tommy Loutzenheiser, class of 2021, is a competitive surfer who spends most of his time in the ocean or on the beach. To him, distance learning is a breath of fresh air. “I like distance learning because I can do school in my own environment of my choice. I recently went on a surf trip with my family up the coast, and I loved being able to do school on the go,” Tommy explained.
One of the positive aspects of attending school virtually is the ability to choose the location in which you study in. Although that may be a downside for those sharing spaces with siblings and other family members, it allows other students to travel. Tommy described, “I feel that distance learning allows me to do more with my day! It is definitely new, but I feel adjusted to it pretty well and I am excited for the future and where it leads with distance learning!”
Senior Samantha Lorr, captain of the Girls Varsity Golf Team as well as treasurer of the National Honor Society, “While I prefer in-person learning since that allows me to see and talk to more people, I think that distance learning is the best solution to keep everyone as safe as possible in this environment. I don’t love being on Zoom calls all day since it sometimes gives me headaches, but it’s nice to see everyone’s faces and get feedback in real time from teachers.”
Especially as a senior at CHS, Samantha did not start off her last year in high school as expected. “I wish that it was safe enough for us to go back and have all the typical senior year activities because those are all so fun! We were able to do a socially distanced senior sunrise last Friday; it was amazing to see everyone and have that class bonding experience with all the craziness that is happening right now. Homecoming getting pushed back is a bit of a bummer, but I’m excited for this spring when we are going to have all of these fun activities like homecoming, powderpuff, prom, and grad night.”
The overall consensus between all eight CHS students is that while distance learning is not the preferred method of attending school, many will take this precaution for the safety of others. Although some find benefits with distance learning, looking at the picture as a whole, learning virtually has more negative consequences than positive ones. With sports, extracurricular activities, technological issues, and the absence of social connections to balance alongside distance learning and homework, these learners have definitely overcome obstacles like no other.