Think back to freshman year.
New teachers. New classmates. New campus.
It was difficult.
But this year’s freshmen face a unique challenge: they must learn all of these new things over distance learning.
Freshmen like Sydnee Coulthurst say they still don’t know many of their classmates.
“In my classes a lot of people turn off their cameras,” Coulthurst said. “I know a lot of the people that went to my middle school, and I’m getting to know my teachers because they’re sharing bits about themselves, but it’s definitely not as in depth as it would be in person.”
Since the students don’t know each other, breakout room assignments can be especially difficult. Math teacher Kelly Virden says she actually celebrates when her students interact.
“When I’m in my AVID groups, when I go into the breakout rooms, and I see that they have their cameras on and they’re talking to each other, that’s exciting,” Virden said. “It’s just not a bunch of blank screens. They’re there, they’re actually talking to each other.”
In addition to not knowing many people, freshmen are struggling with the high school workload.
Virden has noticed that her students feel overburdened by the number of emails they receive each day.
“When we first went to hybrid last semester, I sat there with one of my students and just helped him go through his to-do list,” Virden said. “I was like ‘Yeah, this is overwhelming. There are 300 things on your to-do list? Oh look, you can check this one off because you turned in the syllabus.’”
After sitting down with her student, Virden realized just how stressful emails and to-do lists can be.
“They get an email for everything I post in Google Classroom, and so when you imagine that times six teachers, that’s a lot. I get freaked out when I have 20 emails in my inbox.”
Freshman Kalie Islas-Robold feels swamped by all the assignments on her to-do list.
“Please stop giving us so much work,” Islas-Robold said, addressing teachers. “It’s literally so hard to get everything done. Just last week I had 15 assignments due in one day.”
Many freshman students are not doing their assignments. They deal with the mind-boggling quantities of work by ignoring it. And even the ones that are completing the assignments wish they could ignore them.
“Because of everything that is going on, no one is motivated to do anything and they have a bunch of missing assignments,” Islas-Robold said. “I would love to be like that, but I have this guilt that won’t let me.”
Freshman Ansal Esquivias says that she can tell the difference in her own motivation for online school compared to in-person school.
“Sometimes it can be very difficult to stay motivated to do things,” Esquivias said. “It’s so weird because, with online, you can wake like ten seconds before class and it wouldn’t matter, but with in-person you have this motivation to wake up early or to get ready or to be there on time.”
Lack of motivation among students is making teachers’ jobs more difficult. English teacher Tarin Almstedt finds it difficult to engage with students over Zoom.
“I’ve always taught freshmen. I kind of understand freshmen, at least I like to think I understand freshmen,” Almstedt said. “But through Zoom and distance learning, I’m just not getting feedback or background from students. I can’t see if [a student] has a confused face or if people are understanding.”
Math teacher Jimmy Cao shares Almstedt’s struggles.
“On the computer everyone has a black screen so it is almost like nobody is there,” Cao said. “That was tough and I had to remind myself that they are there. But it is tough and I feel disconnected with them in a way.”
Despite these challenges, however, the class of 2024 is persevering.
Even though Ansal Esquivias likes going to school in-person better than distance learning, she appreciates distance learning because it keeps everyone safe and allows her opportunities to grow.
“I’m learning to adapt to something new. I’m being more flexible with the way I work,” Esquivias said. “I look at things from a different perspective. I definitely took going to school for granted.”
Freshman Cameron Hird said he likes distance learning.
“I just find it easier because usually when I’m in a classroom with my friends, I get easily distracted,” Hird said. “But since everyone is on mute and it’s just the teacher talking, it’s easier for me to focus.”
Class participation is even working over Zoom now. When Virden asks her class questions, the students answer using Zoom’s chat feature.
“I am very impressed with how well my students use the chat,” Virden said. “So I will ask questions and I will say okay guys put your answers in the chat and it’s like wow, where I can’t even read the names because they are all responding so quickly.”
This modified participation may make the transition to high school a little longer for the class of 2024. Teachers know already that they will have to be extra patient with their incoming sophomores. In some cases it might be like a second freshman year for students. However, Virden believes that this year’s freshmen will be well prepared for future years of high school.
“Well, there will be some challenges still when we go back to in-person in the future, but I think they will be prepared,” Virden said. “It’s going to be a little different, but we’ll be able to get them to where they need to be.”