(Katrina Machetta)
Klein Collins High School

Column: Even behind a screen, I choose to thrive

Living in a small town, I thought it would be the last place where the coronavirus would appear. But when the COVID-19 pandemic hit, it hit hard, forcing me to adjust almost every aspect of life onto a virtual platform.

From virtual family milestones to Zoom classes, I have experienced it all. Throughout this pandemic, I have learned the ins and outs of virtual technology in a way that I haven’t before.

When the pandemic struck, I saw my whole high school career transformed into something out of a science-fiction movie, where crisis arrives so suddenly, unexpectedly, out of nowhere.

I went from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. school days to over 30 hours a week behind a computer screen for everything, from tests to daily lessons in every subject and extra-curricular club meetings. I’ve learned more about technology these past several months than I ever have before, everything from Zoom backgrounds to watch parties to breakout sessions. 

With this new technical knowledge inhabiting a virtual environment, there come inevitable tradeoffs, such as the loss of face-to-face peer interactions and the loss of simple pleasures in life that I always seemed to take for granted, like a hug to show love or a high five for joy.

I attend a large public school in Spring, Texas, where I’ve been given a choice between online and in-person learning depending on the preference of learning and comfort with the COVID-19 precautions at the school. My school has about 4,000 students. Nearly half of them opted into online learning, and about half decided to attend in-person classes.

Online learning has always appealed to me most because I can learn at my own pace and talk with the teacher using the chat feature without worrying about constant interruptions, noise, or peer pressures.

Each of my classes has direct instruction from the teacher on Zoom for the first half of class, where both online and in-person students log into the call. This is followed by individualized practice in the second half, where we have the option of logging out of the call and just practicing independently with the online materials or staying in the Zoom call and asking any questions we may have about the lesson.

After each class, we fill out online exit tickets for attendance purposes, including some questions about whether we came to class prepared and what we learned in the class for the day. 

During tests and quizzes, the process is similar to last year on an online platform called Schoology that contains all of our grades, assignments, and other key information. Cameras are mandatory for online students, and the teacher watches our screens to make sure integrity is upheld for the tests and quizzes.

In my new Zoom world, I’ve found novel ways to learn behind a screen, form relationships virtually with my peers, and transform face-to-face instructions into screen-sharing Zoom lessons.

I see my once lively, athletic friends become social media addicts, avid video gamers, or technology gurus. I’ve seen my community change these past few months — both emotionally and physically.

Every day as I awake to a new reality — one that I have learned not just to accept but to thrive in – I realize that without the support and encouragement of my teachers, friends, and loved ones, I wouldn’t have been able to flourish and succeed in this new situation.

Even in a hybrid setting, my school still takes time to care for the students’ well-being, creating a sense of community for the school through virtual open houses or hybrid club meetings.

After school, I lead Creative Writing Club meetings through a hybrid model of in-person and Zoom calls. I attend Latin Club, where my teacher does a great job making sure everyone participates and has a voice in our club activities and discussions, regardless of what learning method they choose.

As a former athlete at my school, I have seen sports completely transformed since pre-pandemic games, from limiting the number of game tickets to having socially distanced practices with masks. 

Electives at my school have adjusted accordingly, as well, such as choir and theatre. In-person choir students sing in a socially-distanced style with masks, and online students sing behind a screen.

As I watch coronavirus cases rise in my school and community, I also see hope, resilience, and creativity increasing with each passing day. If anything, I have realized that amidst all the challenges, the quality of my learning has not changed, but my knowledge and resilience have expanded.