Darius Stanley and his friend Trinity Colón loved high school. For both students, who are also athletes, the halls of George Washington High School, located in South Chicago, sometimes felt like their personal version of High School Musical, the popular and energetic youth film series.
“I love my school. It’s like a giant community, ”said Darius, 16, who plays baseball and is a member of the student council. “It’s always fun and you learn at the same time.”
Then the color faded from that image, as the coronavirus pandemic forced schools to abruptly close in the spring and start the new school year this fall in distance learning mode.
Without the excitement of seeing friends in person after the summer or the anticipation of sitting in a new teacher’s classroom, both Darius and Trinity nodded during long days of distance learning, or on lunch breaks, during high school. first days of school.
Unlike other students, Darius and Trinity had overcome the biggest obstacles to distance learning, securing the internet at home and a work device, but they found themselves faced with a gigantic challenge: how to stay motivated in front of a screen.
“Self-motivation is something I have to have every day,” said Darius, adding that he often found it helpful to have teachers and other classmates to maintain his energy level. “I repeat to myself that I need to prepare to get used to my own space and stay involved.”
In an effort to make up for lost time in the spring, Chicago Public Schools has established a virtual learning day similar in length to what students would experience in person during a normal school year. But the six-hour shift has already caused a huge backlash, with complaints from some parents and the city’s teachers union.
The stakes are high. With more than 300,000 students learning online this fall and an unclear timeline as to when face-to-face education might resume, it is important that students learn remotely
Darius, Trinity and Julissa Reyes, three young men who attend George Washington High School, are dedicated and committed students. They play sports and are excited to participate in the rigorous International Baccalaureate program offered at their school. However, they have also grappled with the transition to distance learning.
A look to the past
For the first few months, after schools closed, Trinity struggled to commit to her studies.
Normally a student with outstanding grades felt like she was in a haze. She described the days she was overwhelmed by information about the coronavirus. She missed her dad; Because her parents are separated, she lives in another house, and the pandemic had cut short her visits. In the meantime, she struggled to find the motivation to be actively involved in her online classes.
When this school year began, he tried to address that problem, but it was difficult. She missed the first day outfits, personalized school supplies, and plans to decorate her locker… all those back-to-school rituals that usually excited her to return each year.
“It seems silly, but all of those things have been a part of my life for a while and it’s sad not being able to carry out those same traditions,” he said.
So she spent the night before the first day of school channeling her stress level into a redecoration. The high school sophomore rearranged her room to have a desk area for remote learning, considering that “people will be able to see my house now,” Trinity said in a text message.
“I keep trying to be optimistic and recover the customs of other years in a different way, such as dedicating a lot of effort and time in creating a special physical and digital space for me,” he said.
For Darius, bringing some normalcy back to the school year has meant getting creative with new social channels and setting some boundaries at home. The 16-year-old boy lives with his brother and a cousin; Three other cousins who live across the street, often take their classes at his house as well. “It gets chaotic,” he said.
In the early days, it felt strange to put the presentations on a Google form, instead of saying them out loud. Also, listening to the voice of one person at a time rather than the environment and noise of a classroom full of students.
So he tried to recreate some of the unity that emerges from being together again in class: “As soon as I found out about the list of students in the class, I did a group talk,” he said. “It gave me the feeling, ‘well, we’re all still in this together, we’re still in class together.’”
A joint effort
Students say that each teacher and the school itself have helped them adjust.
At George Washington, which calls itself “Your Neighborhood High School Where College Is The Goal,” the school’s website offers “disoriented” students on the first day the opportunity to connect to a Google meeting with their counselors or the central office.
Julissa Reyes, a third-year student who lives with her mother and older sister, said she appreciates the teachers being honest with the students.
Educators have participated in virtual icebreaker activities as students get to know each other, either by giving a presentation about their hobbies or by playing a game called “Two Truths and a Lie.”
“They have been very sincere in recent days,” he said.
This past spring, Julissa was overwhelmed by the amount of school work in the confusing first weeks of distance learning, with teachers trying to make sure students finished their studies. As an International Baccalaureate student, “I was worried that I couldn’t keep up with everything.”
So far, this year’s workload appears to be fine, he said.
“Once the classes started, the teachers were very understanding from the students’ point of view,” he said.
Darius noted that teachers this year seem to be on top of the biggest issues happening outside of the classroom, and they haven’t hesitated to address them virtually. Teachers have asked students for their gender pronouns. They have also discussed race and racism, big issues in the news this summer when protesters from across the country marched against police violence towards African Americans.
“I like that our teachers are aware of that,” he said.
Trinity said it has been easier to connect with teachers and students in some classes, but not others. She prefers that teachers give students the option to turn off their videos, despite a district directive urging them to turn on their cameras.
“There are classes where teachers request that the cameras be on and they make things uncomfortable for the students,” he said. But in others, “teachers try to be as inclusive and understanding as possible.”
Trinity is well aware that she has some things that many of her classmates lack; like, for example: a desk, technology to work and a space with a lot of quiet.
In good times, he says he’s adjusting. At other times, it feels hard to get used to this new normal: “Right off the bat, it looks like it could be a struggle.”
For Trinity, the first day was more stressful than it would have been with face-to-face learning. The main theme: the long hours in front of the computer.
Trinity describes it as “frustrating for my body.” And she was not alone: she says that many of her classmates struggled not to fall asleep, exhausted to start in front of a screen. “But, we get by and get through the day,” he says.
This Article, originally published in English by Chalkbeat Chicago, is available in Spanish thanks to the “Translating Chicago News” project of the Institute for Non-Profit News (INN).
Translated by Beatriz Oliva