The blip of the Teams meeting.
The instructions to enter breakout rooms.
And the push by your teacher to turn on your camera.
All staples of online learning.
As the first semester of online learning comes to a close, students are finding their groove. Some are barely hanging on, with both their grades and mental health, while others seem to be having a more positive time during online learning.
Shelley Jellison has been in her role as Career Counselor at Puyallup High School for the past 17 years. She interacts with students on a daily basis and has noticed some patterns in how they’re handling online learning.
“Everybody is struggling, it just may look a little different. What a struggle for one student might be, might look very different from another student. What we have found is that overall we have a lot of students who are not passing classes, and we’re looking for ways that we can help students with that,” Jellison said. “We’re really talking with students [saying] hey do whatever you can to be engaged to get those classes up and talking to teachers about additional support systems.”
She says she has noticed that normally high academic students are struggling. Online school is affecting everyone, not just the less-academically motivated students.
“In addition to that we’re also seeing some students who are typically doing very well in school- they may have A’s and B’s- are now not doing as well. We really want to look at students who are failing because we don’t want them to not get credit, we don’t want to overlook those students because they’re in a struggle as well, it just looks a little different then our failing students,” Jellison said.
Senior Thomas Nguyen is currently enrolled in full-time RunningStart. He says he has had to learn various time management skills in order to stay on top of his work while virtual.
“We only have office hours to talk to the teacher and sometimes I get confused on a lot of stuff and so I have to look up stuff by myself, self study, which is kinda hard. At the same time not too difficult but it’d be easier if I could ask the teacher,” Nguyen said. “I had to learn how to time manage my classes. I’m not doing too well but I think I’m not [as] stressed out [as I was] last year but I would still like my schedule to be better. I’m working on my sleep schedule, it’s like a 5 a.m. to 12 schedule [because] I work throughout the night. I’m trying to reset it back to eight to nine [hours of sleep per night] normal lifestyle. Time management is the biggest factor.”
Online school has taught many students many different life skills. Nguyen has learned how to manage his time better and stay on top of his work.
“In a good way, it’s helping me be better with my time management. It’s given me more flexibility and freedom for when I can work but at the same time it also leads me to procrastinate way more than I usually do. All the due dates are usually on one day which is, for Pierce [Community College], mainly Sundays. Most of the time, I get like one or two things done on Thursday and Friday but then I just spend the weekend doing all the homework,” Nguyen said.
Junior Stephanie Vasquez says she has been enjoying her time in online school because it’s helped her be less stressed and get involved in her community.
“Online school has been good for me just because I have definitely felt less stressed and more flexible with my schedule. I can focus on one subject at a time and not feel rushed and go at my own pace,” Vasquez said. “Another benefit from online school for me personally, is I don’t feel as exhausted as I would if I would be going in person just because seven hours of school and six classes I [would] not have the energy to go to clubs after school. With online learning I have been more involved with clubs and have learned new things and reached out to more people and been more involved in the community.”
Vasquez says she has had a positive experience in online learning so far. She has had some struggles with technology, but her and her teachers have been able to overcome those challenges.
“In some ways, it has been a bit challenging just because of technical difficulties, and also because you can’t talk to your teacher as much as we would if we were in person learning,” Vasquez said.
Nguyen has had a similar struggle with contacting his teachers. He has to rely heavily on office hours and the internet to teach him the material.
“I have to figure things out by myself most of the time if I can’t come in contact with the teacher. It feels like a lot more work and a lot more pressure because I can’t be like walking up in class saying hey am I doing this right,” Nguyen said. “At Pierce they just drop us like all the work for one week and you’re just on your own besides the office hours or emailing them. You can’t really pace yourselves or at least for me, I don’t know how to pace myself. I just end up doing a week’s worth of lectures in one sitting. It’s [working] fine for me but sometimes I get stressed out.”
Vasquez would also want to be more connected to her teachers. She says she feels that the communication aspect of school has been lost over the computer.
“One thing would probably be being more connected with teachers and classmates just because we’re just staring at the screen all day and it’s just very disconnected from each other,” Vasquez said.
She says she plans on staying online whenever students are allowed to opt into a hybrid schedule. Vasquez has been able to establish good habits that she doesn’t feel the need to change.
“I am planning to stay virtual just because it benefits my learning habits and my studying habits and it works really well with my schedule and with my family,” Vasquez said.
Though Nguyen doesn’t know what the possibilities for hybrid at Pierce will be, but if he got the opportunity to go in-person, he would. He says he wants to be able to talk to his teachers and classmates in-person.
“I would most definitely like to go back to hybrid. Even though I wouldn’t say I’m the most social person, seeing other people sometimes gives me that spark, I guess you could say. I’ve been talking to my friends about it and seeing other people do the same, suffering or thriving, gives you that sense of life, you know, you feel kind of alive. And I really like to meet new people at school. So yeah, I would love to go to hybrid if that’s possible [for Pierce],” Nguyen said.
Jellison has a son that is a senior at Emerald Ridge High School who is in Running Start and she knows he’s doing well in school. She knows that this isn’t the case for all PHS students but some are doing well.
“I know my own son, he’s doing really well, I’ll just be honest. Before COVID ever happened we decided that he was going to do part time Running Start and that’s been a godsend. It’s kept him focused in a different way. We have students that are doing Running Start that are doing really well and we have students here, not on our campus but on our Teams that are doing really well but I don’t think that it’s going to really be most people’s choice to [stay online], to be so distant, to be missing out on so much,” Jellison said.
Vasquez says she has seen positive changes in her mental health during COVID-19. She is able to take more time for herself and spend her days with her family.
“My mental health has been affected in a positive way. Just because for me, it’s a better way of learning and I can, as I said before, go at my own pace and work at whatever time I am available. Also because it is less pressuring, and you can not get as distracted as you would in person learning,” Vasquez said.
Nguyen has also been able to spend a lot more time with his parents. He has had a harder time with his mental health, but he is thankful for the conversations he’s been able to have around the dinner table.
“Family time. I’ve been able to connect with my mom and my dad more, mainly my mom because she lost her job during quarantine sadly, but that also gave me more time [with her]… throughout the whole entire [lockdown] I got to eat her cooking every day. I got to talk to her,” said Nguyen.
Jellison wants the PHS student body to know that no matter what they’re going through or how they’re handling online school, there is staff at PHS ready and willing to help them out.
“Our counseling staff, our administers, myself and our teachers are basically on call for whatever our students need. It’s how can we help you, what can we do,” Jellison said.