Column: Class is now in session — My first week of online high school

My freshman year’s been strange so far.

I’m not exactly sure what I expected upon my entrance into high school, but I know that I’m missing out on quite a lot. Thanks to the COVID-19 virus, I’ve lost the opportunity to make some new friends, the chance to embarrass myself by walking into the wrong class, and the newfound freedom that comes from navigating a foreign campus.

I pictured myself getting lost in crowded hallways this school year and eating lunch with my group of close friends. I thought I’d be able to sit at the same table as other kids without having to be six feet apart and stand shoulder-to-shoulder in those cheesy first-day-of-school activities. But the hallways at my local high school are deserted, I saw my friends for maybe five minutes at graduation, and it’s pretty hard to get to know other students through the tunnel vision of a Zoom call.

I had a lot of preconceived notions about how I’d experience my first week of high school—how could I not, with seasons of CW teen dramas under my belt? Compared to a global pandemic, these small losses hardly matter, but it’s strange to look back on what I thought my first year of high school would be like while comparing it to reality. If you told me in 2019 that the most unrealistic part of those shows was that the characters could safely walk their classrooms and school hallways, I’d be hard-pressed to believe you.

And I’m not ashamed to say it: I miss seeing other people besides my family. I miss being in class with kids my age. I miss lunch bells and six-minute passing periods; I miss the pre-corona of it all.

Last year I spent six hours a day, five days a week, 180 days a year moving between a few select places that had grown as familiar to me as my own house: The lunch pavilion, the school restrooms, the stone benches in the quad.

In-person schooling was, by and large, the most constant thing in my life. It was part of my daily routine, something that occupied me for hours a day. So as necessary as it is, this at-home quarantine has made me feel more than a little antsy.

It helps that remote learning isn’t something entirely new; in my school district, administrators have been rushing to adjust to the change since sometime around early March. The last day things felt “normal” was on Friday, March 13, which is when Arcadia Unified School District closed for distance learning.

The principal announced the surprise “vacation” over the intercom, and I practically ran home from school, exhilarated—the idea of a two-week break seemed like a new and exciting novelty. Then the two-week break turned into three weeks, then four, before stretching into entire months. During that time, we learned virtually, and haphazardly since our teachers lacked time to prepare remote material.

Well, I thought as a class of 32 struggled their way through a class discussion, half of us unable to turn on our mics and the others crashing thanks to a poor connection, next year’s going to be an absolute disaster. 

Not quite.

While some frustrations remain with distance learning — I have yet to experience the kind of panic that comes from a dropped call in any other situation — for the most part, remote classes in Arcadia Unified have gone smoothly.

Most of my teachers have implemented Google Meet along with Zoom, and have utilized sites such as Turnitin and Google Classroom to allow organized work submission. Breakout rooms continue to promote student-student interaction as best as they can. The “raise hand” feature makes it easier to catch the attention of an educator.

But the technical aspects have far been outweighed by the practical; I’ve found that the things I found most nerve-racking about regular school have, in my case, eliminated themselves once translated online.

Every student knows the frantic hustle-and-bustle of early mornings in the pre-pandemic world. This year, though, classes were pushed back an extra half hour to account for unnecessary travel time. It may not sound like a significant change, but lately, I’ve found it easier to stay alert in school. Plus, as someone who’s usually shy in class, I feel more confident in answering questions when I can’t sense two dozen pairs of eyes on me.

Don’t even get me started on the time I cut out every morning while getting ready.

Granted, it can feel confining to sit in one room while staring at a laptop screen, and without my friends around me, school is far lonelier than it used to be. So far, distance learning has had its pitfalls and its positives. But my school district has dedicated itself to an efficient way of distance learning, putting in the kind of hard work that I wholeheartedly commend.

I don’t mind this new way of life, strange as it may be. And as long as I don’t get caught wearing pajamas while in English class, then my first year of high school should be fine.

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