Teaching and Learning in a Pandemic

Going the Distance (Part 2)
by Amy Brown

Austin Schliecher is focused on using his time wisely during this highly unusual academic schedule. A junior at Buena High, and a Captain of the varsity basketball team, he said while adjusting to the new online learning system was rough at first, once he got into a set routine, he found advantages in working at his own pace. “I spend about an hour per class, and I don’t want to fall behind, so I don’t set myself back,” said Schliecher.

Asked if he was concerned about the potential impact on his last season this fall in high school basketball before applying to colleges, he replied that he stays positive and tries to go with the flow. “I’m just trying to work out and stay in shape for basketball season,” he said. “Our coach has done a good job of keeping us together; we’ve been doing workouts, and we’re on Zoom calls with the team to make sure we’re all on the same page.” He shared that the team is very focused on maintaining momentum and staying connected as much as possible with the limited access they have—working on plays on the phone and focusing on team goals for next year.

Schliecher’s advice to other students and athletes? “Just outwork everyone that’s taking this time off to relax. Stay focused and don’t slack off,” he said. “If you slack off, you’ll fall behind. This is a great time to get ahead of your game and focus on your academics ahead of everyone else.”

Some students are concerned about navigating a regularly scheduled major transition with the coming school year. Sydney Davis will be starting high school in the fall, and currently attends Balboa Middle School.  “I feel like I’m not going to be as prepared as I should be for high school; I feel kind of threatened because I feel like I don’t know as much as I should.” She’s also concerned about not being prepared as she might otherwise be for trying out for the high school volleyball team. She said she’s finding the schoolwork online relatively easy, but it’s hard to catch up if a day is missed. Her advice to other students: “Keep positive, and keep to a schedule.

At first I was doing all my schoolwork from 10am to 2 or 3pm, but lately I’ve been staying up all night, and I want to get back to that first schedule. Basically, don’t lag and stop doing your work.” She’s picked up some new skills during the quarantine, like cooking, learning to sew, and so far has made about 50 face masks for friends, family and a local company.

Distance learning means hours of computer time for both the student and, especially in the case of younger kids, the parents.  Nancy and Chris Cairns are both teachers and parents, Chris teaching at Besant School of Happy Valley in Ojai, and Nancy a professor at LA City College and Ventura College. They both are working from home and conducting distance learning with their own students, while being responsible for overseeing the many hours of daily computer time in online learning for their 6-year-old grandson Braxton, who lives with them. They share his education duties with his great grandmother and mother in another household. “It’s a group effort to engage him with the work,” said Chris. “The online programs he does are interesting and well-made but they keep his attention. The teacher only meets with the class once a week.”

Nancy shared that the system has challenges, especially for working parents of young children.  “It would probably be better if they met every day and had structured lesson plans and were all together in a virtual classroom. It’s like pulling teeth to get Braxton to do schooling in the present iteration,” said Nancy. “It’s felt like we kind of had to choose. It feels awful. To be in this position, where we have to make some choices, between not being the instructor that I’ve always been, or having to sacrifice my grandson’s education.”

Chris feels it’s important to look at the big picture. “ As much as learning is important, I think that another teacher put it succinctly: there will be time to learn, there will be a time to catch up on what was missed, but now is not that time,” he said.  “What we can’t catch up on is emotional damage when families are torn apart by stress and trauma. Don’t put distance education ahead of your own and your family’s mental, emotional and physical health. We need to take care of each other right now.”

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