First year Sea Hawk struggles to stretch her wings
Editor’s note: Lucy Davis, a freshman at Redondo Union, reflects on what it has been like to enter high school virtually.
by Lucy Davis
My parents didn’t take me to school on the first day of high school.
That morning was particularly quiet, as far as first days usually go. I made myself breakfast, I brushed my teeth as my brother rose from bed, I said good morning to my mom and dad. There was no fuss about pictures, no need to remember to take my lunchbox with me on my way out the door.
I didn’t walk in step with my older brother to my first class, wide eyed and excited and a little lost. He didn’t give me a pep talk. He didn’t show me around the Redondo Union campus during lunch, saying, “You have Krueger fifth period. She’s in the 900s building. Here, I’ll show you.” I didn’t dash to class with all of the other frantic freshmen.
Instead, I sat at my desk. In my room. At home. Computer charged, water bottle beside me, I logged onto Zoom for my first period class: geometry.
It’s strange, having your identity confined to a box on a screen. Everyone is kept in their own space; there is no standing in groups or staying close to your friends. You’re in one place. Your classmate is in another. The algorithm has decided that you share a class, and that’s as close as you get to a colleague.
My teachers, bright-eyed and hopeful, tried their very best to make it normal. Some of them had pictures of their classrooms as their background. I filled out three of the same “getting to know you” Google Slides in my first few weeks. Favorite book? I don’t have one, but maybe The Great Gatsby. Favorite color? Lilac purple. What do you like to do for fun? I read, I go to the beach with my friends, I spend time with my family.
I heard six jokes about online learning in the first week, which I’ve learned to receive with an ironic smile. Time started moving and I fell into a routine. Get up, go to school, eat lunch, do homework. Get outside as much as possible, journal as often as possible, talk to friends. The homework began to pile up. The test dates were posted on Classroom and a reminder to “please come to office hours if you have any questions!” marked the end of each class period. Somehow normal, somehow not, but it’s the only high school experience I’ve ever known.
Log on, log off. Day 24, day 39, day 67…
While it might seem easy in theory to sit in front of a computer all day, students have realized it is anything but.
“The biggest thing is how mentally draining it is to be staring at a computer screen and Zoom for so many hours in a day,” said sophomore Shreya Wunnava. “I’m done at the end of the day. I’m done with a day of Zoom.”
Another aspect of in-person learning that fails to translate onto a digital platform is socioemotional. Gone are the days when students huddled together to talk before the bell, or discuss last night’s assignment. Instead, breakout rooms on Zoom cluster students together at random. The attempts at social interaction via these rooms can be hit or miss experiences.
“The Outstanding Delegates of Bangladesh have invited you to breakout room 2,” a teacher privately messaged me on day 63. My peers and I were supposed to be annotating a legal case, but we talked about young adult fiction and vegetarianism instead. On another day, I talked to one of my classmates about an amazing book we had both read over the summer and how disappointed we were that the main character didn’t end up surviving. Other days, no one in the breakout room cares.
“No one unmuted themselves in my breakout room today,” I lamented to my brother on day 10. “I feel like I’m talking to myself.”
“A lot of people seem to have technical issues,” fellow freshman Lauren Victoria said. “There are camera issues, audio issues, internet issues.”
“It’s awkward,” Wunnava added. “It’s a tough situation for all of us. I don’t think anyone really likes breakout rooms, especially in the beginning.” Freshman Boden Allen told me he still doesn’t know many kids are in his classes because peer interaction online is minimal compared to being in the classroom.
Being confined to a box on a screen also eliminates the possibility of school functions, another chance for students to spend time with our friends.
“I was really looking forward to the experience of joining clubs, going to dances — having social interaction with other people,” Victoria said. Instead, we are left with alone time. Many students believe communication platforms like FaceTime and chat apps are nowhere near the same as face-to-face conversations.
“My least favorite part of online learning is the lack of personal connection with people and my friends,” Wunnava said. “You lose out on the social aspect, and that’s the worst part. It’s me being secluded in my room.”
For many months, I dealt with the new circumstances by throwing myself into work. At first it was a way to maintain normalcy, but over time the burnout and lack of motivation became exhausting.
“Just trying to balance this new world that we’re living in is so emotionally and mentally and physically draining, and then on top of that you’re supposed to stay on top of your schoolwork and be productive and teach it to yourself?” Wunnava said. “it’s just so hard to be diligent.”
Being forced to be inside has also taught some students to prioritize their mental health. Victoria said in eighth grade she struggled to find a balance between school and activity, but that quarantining taught her it isn’t sustainable to push yourself until you can’t function anymore. She has learned to seek refuge out of doors.
“I’ve learned to appreciate how beautiful it is outside,” Victoria said.
With all of its drawbacks, there have been some wins during remote learning. Condensed courses and flexibility have allowed students to work (and play) in a way that works best for them.
“It gives you time to figure out how you want to spend the rest of your day.” Victoria said. “I’m finding more things that I like to do.”
Wunnava, who used to have a schedule packed full of extracurriculars, enjoys the freedom provided by a compacted school day.
“I would [like to see the continuation of] the flexibility and the mindset that teachers have when it comes to online,” she said. “I say that because with online learning, teachers have been forced to see what is important and what isn’t, and so they only [teach what is] important.”
While understanding that Zoom is our present, some of my classmates can’t help but wonder: what about the future? The transition from grade-to-grade will only be more jarring once classrooms fill again. With school comes the busy schedule of clubs, sports, and homework some of us have come to forget. Some students are bracing themselves for a difficult dose of reality when in-person learning resumes.
“I’m definitely nervous about how this year is going to affect my future years in high school, especially next year,” Wunnava said. “I’m worried about how my transition is going to be, with adding on extra tough classes, plus dealing with extracurriculars and a more rigid time schedule.”
“I think we will be behind and we’ll be forced to work even harder to work back to where we would’ve been, but the entire world is behind,” Victoria said. “So maybe not.”
Dr. Steven Keller, superintendent of the Redondo Beach Unified School District, tells me he thinks it will be interesting to see how we unlearn some of the behaviors we learned during the pandemic. “And if we even do,” he added. He continued, “I think the virtual learning tool is going to be integrated — it won’t take over public education by any means — but are there ways that we see in the future [integrating] this effectively? Absolutely.”
Still, like the rest of us, he is looking forward to the day we return to regular classrooms.
“That’s what public education is,” he said. “It’s the vibrant, in-person experience that is, potentially, magical.”
With vaccine developments, the light at the end of the tunnel is just around the corner. It won’t be long until I have to dash around campus to find the 900s building and get to eat with my friends during lunch. We just have to hang on until then.
Day 364. ER
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