Distance learning: friend or foe?

Students and teachers give their perspectives on whether remote learning is easier or harder

October 20, 2020


Efren Mendieta

The Sweetwater Union High School District (SUHSD) announced the extension of distance learning for the rest of the semester on September 21. Teachers and students have expressed mixed sentiments about remote learning.

With distance learning continuing every week, the unusual weekdays could be growing on students who have taken a liking to the extra two hours of sleep. The new distance learning structure has gradually brought its gifts along with a contentious reputation that has affected both students and staff at Bonita Vista High (BVH). Despite the complications from a new school year run remotely, there still remains a question on whether the new day-to-day system has made school easier or more difficult for students regarding grade sustainability and overall stress.

According to Integrated Math 2 (IM2) teacher Cesar Gaitan, the distance learning model presented challenges with lesson planning and grades, which required adjustments to accommodate possible issues with his students’ learning. Student engagement was another concern of his, since some individuals may benefit more from group work and personalized attention from a teacher.

“Students at [BVH] are very fortunate that their teachers are designing lessons together, sharing resources and meeting about what works and what needs improvement,” Assistant Principal Esther Wise said. 

Expository Reading and Writing Course teacher Carmen Ramirez-Stokes detailed her concerns of distance learning affecting student grades for visual and kinesthetic learners, students lacking motivation from mental health disorders and students lacking a proper support system at home.

“This makes it difficult for us, as teachers, because we do not know who is suffering; therefore, we grade the students according to what they do or do not turn in. Because we are sometimes not aware of the students’ circumstances, we give them the grade they earn. This can add more stress on the students,” Ramirez said.

BVH has been carrying out various methods to prevent grades being affected by distance learning. The daily schedule includes office hours, a set time from 8:20 AM to 8:50 AM in order for students to meet their teachers with any questions or concerns. Students are also encouraged to meet with their teachers on Fridays for additional help. When students don’t turn in assignments, Ramirez sends emails to parents when no work is turned in while Gaitan allows late assignments to be turned in during the grading period.

“I would encourage any student who is struggling academically, socially or mentally to reach out to a teacher or counselor for support. We are here to support you but it is difficult to know what challenges you are going through,” Gaitan said.

There appears to be mixed sentiments with how grades are living up to expectations. Gaitan ensures students are doing well if they have properly sought helpful resources and managed their time wisely while the ones struggling may have multiple absences and a lack of work completion. Ramirez’s predictions live up to her current outcome as she claims many of her students are failing due to factors such as health concerns relating to COVID-19 and educational needs.

“We started this distance learning journey knowing that it was a lot of work. Online learning has changed everything we know about school and naturally some students have been affected positively and some students struggle with the change,” Wise said.

Some teachers and students believe grades should see a positive change in the future. Ramirez claims that she has witnessed a negative shift in her students’ grades this year, which the school has addressed by reaching out to families to help with any issues. 

Senior Helaina Sako, who has a history of online school, did not anticipate her usual straight A’s to be affected due to her previous positive experiences. Despite Sako currently passing all her classes with B’s, she does not see this result as stable and is “kept on edge.”

“I’m not proud…and I’m afraid of how my dip in grades looks or what it says about me,” Sako said.

After nearly a semester in distance learning, there is mixed reception to it compared to last year. With Sako currently struggling despite her best efforts, she admits to not taking distance learning seriously last year due to not understanding how grave the pandemic would become. 

Additionally, Ramirez expresses that last year also shaped the way students feel about distance learning. Despite it now being more organized, she claims the decision to not harm grades contributed to students feeling unmotivated. She believes this mentality may have snuck its way into this new school year.

“Those two experiences were very different. Last semester students knew their teachers already and had an established routine and rapport with their teachers. Starting the school year this way was definitely not easy for both students and teachers. We are all currently working outside of our comfort zone and need to trust that we have [the] best intentions as we get through these rough waters,” Wise said.

Senior Gabriel Labonte works on his Persuasive Essay for his Expository Reading and Writing Course (ERWC). (Provided by Gabriel Labonte)

With the general freedom behind remote learning, teachers have questioned the integrity and academic motivation from students. Ramirez was informed by other teachers of students cheating and views some students as dishonest, as many share class links to disturb the class or simply turn off their cameras to essentially ditch class. 

“We are creating this dishonest society where they cannot get an answer without the help of technology. The students are using distance learning as a platform to create chaos when it comes to teaching,” Ramirez said.

With a possible return next semester, it remains uncertain how student performance will be impacted while transitioning to in-person teaching. Sako is certain her grades will change but does not exactly know whether they’ll take a positive or negative direction. Ramirez expects a positive change in students’ grades.

“I am hopeful that if we return next semester everyone will be happy and grateful to be back [and] that students will just want to work twice as hard and maximize their learning,” Wise said.

Although Wise is noticing a fair amount of students thriving with distance learning, she understands the room for confusion, missing deadlines and the longing for immediate feedback and clarification from teachers.

“School definitely hasn’t been easier. I’m having a really hard time understanding topics and turning in work. I believe it’s my worst year of school academically,” Sako said.

Despite the uncertainties of in-person instruction, some staff seek to return to campus. Wise believes that students will appreciate a return to school for the interaction with other students and a better learning environment. Gaitan ensures it is important for students to return as he believes Physical Education and Science classes are taught better in the classroom.

“It’s my last year of high school so I’d like to experience it. I think it would be so much more motivating to learn in a classroom if I knew my teachers and was able to be on campus with a mindset of being in school,” Sako said. “I miss the environment that allowed for school to top my mind. I’d like to see my friends before we all go to college.”

With a possible return to campus next semester, the readjusting process may be difficult. As a senior, Sako believes that freshmen may have the toughest time readjusting since they began high school in an unorthodox way. With students’ social lives, Ramirez claims difficulties may stem from the requirement of wearing masks and social distancing measures that will be in place. 

“Our students need to understand that we will all have to readjust and in-person teaching next semester [if possible] is going to be very different from any in person learning that they have experienced. However, I am confident that with clear rules of engagement we can and will make it work,” Wise said.

As distance learning remains the only viable method of instruction for now, Wise has faith that both students and staff understand how integral they are towards each other to limit complications and ensure the best for students.

“I believe that our students care about their future and appreciate how much their teachers do for their academic success. Integrity and honesty are important at [BVH] and our students know that if they work with their teachers they will succeed,” Wise said. “Teachers know where you are academically and the message they present in all their lessons is ‘I care that you learn and I won’t give up on you.’” 

About the Contributor
Photo of Efren Mendieta
Efren Mendieta, Videographer

Hello, I’m currently a senior at BVH and this is my second year on staff and I originally joined in order to expand on my writing ability. I can honestly...

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