The Office of Elementary and Secondary Education (OESE) has spent the past few months discussing the return to in-person learning, and has encouraged districts across the nation to seek out testimonials from parents, teachers, school officials, and community members sharing their positive experiences – in both virtual and in-person environments. The following is one such “back-to-school success story” from Henderson County Public Schools.
Isabella Leonard, 10th grade student
North Henderson High School
When I heard rumors of a virus first spring up, somewhere around February of this year, I was quick to shove them away. I’d had some recent moves and jumbles in my life, so I hadn’t given it much thought, too caught up in my own scramble of a world. Unfortunately, in just a month’s time, it became a part of that scramble, something I found myself no longer able to ignore.
Schools closed the third week of March in Broward County, Florida, where I was living at the beginning of the year. The virus hit us fast, and bad. Before I knew it, my city was issuing a lockdown and curfew. Itchy face masks were to be worn at all times and I was cancelling all of my plans. They told us schools would open back up in two weeks’ time. But two weeks turned into four and four became the rest of the semester. I was finishing my freshman year alone.
Virtual was confusing in Broward, mainly because lessons over call weren’t mandated, and none of my teachers chose to pursue that option. I finished my classes with minimal communications involved, and struggled to maintain good grades. I did pass though, and I suppose that’s what mattered most in the disarray of it all.
Once summer arrived on my doorstep, my family decided to move. It was sudden and startling. I couldn’t say goodbye to anyone, and I was going over half a thousand miles away, to a town with a population of seventy-five hundred, much smaller than my city of nearly a million. We settled quietly into Fletcher, North Carolina, having minimal contact with others. Here, the virus had not hit so hard, so many places were open and masks were not always required. Having a young baby at home, who’d been born premature, there wasn’t much room for socialization. My aunt stayed home with the baby, and my uncle had his own computer business. Remaining inside wasn’t difficult. Of course, we took time to explore our surroundings in places with little crowds. We spent hours on the Blue Ridge Parkway, and took long walks in the evenings. But again, socialization was kept to a minimum.
As the next school year approached, I felt an abundance of frustration. My county had announced it would be continuing on virtually, and then reconvene after six weeks. I would be starting at a new school digitally. Already friendless, I felt doomed to remain isolated. Beginning classes alone, with no one in my corner was difficult. I knew I wouldn’t be reaching out to make friends, as someone who has always been introverted. I also feared communication with teachers, since I have never been good at speaking up when need be.
Interestingly enough though, I found virtual learning to be well-equipped with everything I’d needed. My teachers each set up ways for classmates to get to know each other, and it actually worked. Within the first two weeks, a peer reached out, asking for my number. My spirits were rising, and the workload felt very manageable. As someone who’s always striven to maintain high grades, I knew this year’s determination wouldn’t change, only the circumstances. But instead of more challenges, I found more ways to succeed.
Class recordings ensured that if I wasn’t able to attend a class, I wouldn’t miss out, and for courses I had more trouble with, like math, I could use the recording as a safety net. If I didn’t completely understand something the first go-around, I could just go back later to watch it and take more thorough notes. My teachers were constantly making themselves available to talk, and setting up resources for extra aid. Though each class differed, roughly a week’s time was given to complete assignments. And with classes only going until noon, I had a whole day ahead of me to do my work, and then whatever I pleased. Virtual learning was pretty amazing.
Now of course, like everyone else, I had slip ups. Procrastination was my worst, holding off until the night before to finish homework. But with the “To-do” list feature on Google Classroom, I was able to keep track of every assignment and when it was due, so I didn’t feel like I was forgetting something, and didn’t have to struggle to remember where everything was.
As the six weeks came to a close, Henderson County was left to make another decision. This time, hybrid learning was established, with the option of staying virtual full-time, as well. Still with my young cousin, I couldn’t afford the extra exposure, certainly not with flu season right around the corner. So I stayed home. I was slightly concerned about the distribution of my teachers’ attention between virtual and in-person kids, but it ended up fine. Everyone was able to learn in-sync and I could remain safe while learning.
I ended my first quarter with good grades. One B, and the rest A’s. Considering it was the first quarter and a big adjustment all-around, I felt pretty good. And that pesky B could always be brought up in Quarter 2.
Which leaves me where I am now, I suppose. Writing my “success story.” I think it all sort of winds down to a mixture of determination, experimentation (figuring out what aspects of virtual learning work best for you and using them to your best advantage), and communication. That last one being with both teachers and classmates. At our core, all humans are sociable and thrive best when we can talk amongst those that share likeness with ourselves. Some of my biggest enjoyments have been small conversations in the chat bar feature of Google Meets, and unmuting before classes to talk. Everyone is different, but I do think that each student has the capacity to succeed in virtual learning. Having support from teachers, peers, and family alike, is just one of those things that can make all of the difference. In a jumbling conclusion, classes through a computer screen aren’t nearly as difficult as they may seem to be, and can even have unforeseen triumphs and glories.
If you’re an HCPS student, parent/guardian, or educator and want to share your positive 2020 story, please email Molly McGowan Gorsuch at firstname.lastname@example.org.