COVID-(20)19 and beyond: COVID-19’s impact on the education of today and tomorrow
November 18, 2020
Since the COVID-19 pandemic first began in the U.S., DGS has been forced to remain almost exclusively remote, drastically changing how the school year has looked for students and teachers thus far. The pandemic won’t only affect the 2020-2021 school year as COVID-19’s impact on education will likely be felt even after a vaccine has been distributed.
One of the most notable changes since the pandemic began has been the absence of in person contact between students and their teachers. For senior Alaina Vergara, these circumstances have completely reshaped her academic experience.
“When you’re not surrounded by classmates or teachers, the atmosphere of a class changes completely. And because it’s hard to have real conversations with classmates on Zoom, the social aspect of school has sort of disappeared,” Vergara said.
Teachers have also missed the social interactions of pre-COVID-19 school days. English teacher Alison Helms made clear that these casual exchanges between teachers and students are much more than just a short conversation and are instead a way to foster relationships in the classroom.
“It’s a little thing, but I miss greeting students at the door before the bell rings… There are so many little moments that build trust and respect in a classroom, and that trust is essential to have a meaningful discussion about topics that matter. Intellectual risks are hard enough, let alone when you don’t know the people in your class and you’re looking at a bunch of blacked-out screens or wondering if your audio will cut out in the middle of an important point,” Helms said.
Chemistry teacher Jennifer Fischer shares in Helms’s belief that these short conversations have much more impact than most realize.
“I also miss the reactions from students when I share terrible science jokes in class and connect with my students through their own passion and enthusiasm for science,” Fischer said.
The changing dynamics between students and teachers has served as a reminder not to take things for granted. Associate Principal for Student Services Sara Courington says she’s already learned many lessons from the pandemic.
“As educators, we have always cared deeply about the social and emotional well-being of our students, but it is now a priority more than ever. We have all learned to extend each other more flexibility and kindness because we are collectively struggling in many ways… I undervalued having students in-person because I took it for granted,” Courington said.
Past the absence of social interaction, teachers have been forced to rethink their entire curriculum and adapt it for a remote setting with many incorporating a variety of new activities using online platforms — something Helms spoke to.
“There’s very little that’s the same. I think people usually think of curriculum just as the ‘what’ we teach, but it’s also in the ‘how’ it’s taught,” Helms said.
Part of this adjustment has come in the form of a new block schedule that’s been in place since the start of the 2020-2021 school year. While drawing mixed reviews, Vergara believes it’s been beneficial for their learning.
“In my opinion, [the block schedule has] worked really well despite the difficulties presented by remote learning. Having twice the amount of time to absorb lessons in each class in addition to only concentrating on a handful of classes per day has really improved my focus,” Vergara said.
Other students differ in their view of the block schedule. Junior Michael Joseph feels that the new schedule has left him learning less than in a traditional eight period schedule.
“Block schedules are good for flexibility during uncertain times, yet are bad for productivity. The best way to learn is to learn day by day, and block schedules don’t promote this,” Joseph said.
Not all has been negative though, as some students and teachers have reported some positive aspects of remote learning. In addition to rethinking her curriculum and learning new technology, Helms says that her home life has benefited from teaching remotely.
“I used to not see my 3-year-old and 10-month-old in the mornings before I had to leave for work. [That is] not the case now. It’s hard to be stressed about the day when my 3-year-old is telling me, ‘Mom, you’re my best friend,’ because I actually had time to make him pumpkin pancakes for breakfast,” Helms said.
Courington has also found some bright sides to remote learning. Since the school year began, there have been daily interdepartmental meetings to coordinate DGS’s response to COVID-19.
“This helps us determine how we will work collaboratively to be sure all affected parties are identified when we must contact trace. That is a silver lining to this pandemic; I did not have a chance to work with this team daily before now,” Courington said.
On the students’ end, many have realized aspects about themselves as learners since the pandemic began. Vergara’s lessons have included both the positive and negative aspects about herself as a student.
“I’ve learned that I’m a lot more patient than I thought I was, especially in dealing with the tech issues and unpredictable setbacks of remote learning. On the other hand, I’ve also learned that I sometimes have a hard time keeping myself focused when there’s no one around to check me,” Vergara said.
Moving forward, the experiences and lessons from the COVID-19 pandemic will surely shape education in the future. In addition to more blended and asynchronous learning, Courington believes that student support will also look different post-COVID-19.
“I believe we will place more emphasis on social and emotional learning at the classroom level. This will help us build a community that cares for each other and recognizes we all need support, students and staff alike,” Courington said.
Courington continued, saying, “Social-emotional health is the foundation for learning; it is not something that only happens with counselors, social workers, psychologists, etc. We are all in this together.”
Vergara also believes that student support should be emphasized in the future as she hopes the same attention currently being paid to students’ emotional well-being continues after the pandemic.
“My hope is that both teachers and students can keep drawing from that energy going forward. Stresses and pressures are always building throughout the year, and because there’s no way of gauging how every individual feels, I think that every bit of effort to connect with students makes a world of difference,” Vergara said.
In addition to a larger emphasis on students’ emotional health, new academic resources that became available during remote learning may also be a part of DGS permanently, according to Fischer.
“If students take advantage of them, I think virtual office hours and virtual peer tutoring could continue to be a benefit to students in the future,” Fischer said.
In the meantime though, both students and teachers will continue to try to adapt to learning during the COVID-19 pandemic. Despite some positive changes that have come as a result of the remote schedule, many teachers and students still can’t wait for when school can return back to normal. Helms already has plans for her first few days.
“I think some students may have been putting on a brave front for these past few months, and I would want to make sure they’re supported by whatever resources the school or our community can offer,” Helms said.