A COVID reality: School focuses on helping students rather than punishing them for mistakes

October 16, 2020 — by Jason Cheng and Vinay Gollamudi

Issues with Zoom are all too common in online learning environments

Sophomore Anand Agrawal was halfway through his fourth-period English Zoom class when he noticed everyone’s faces frozen. As the meeting crashed on his computer, Zoom notified him that he lost internet connection. Hoping his teacher wouldn’t mark him absent, he scrambled to re-enter the class.

Apart from the regular challenges of schoolwork, homework and tests, students now have the added stress of internet and computer malfunctions as they participate in school.

When students attend in-person school, they usually know what the expected behavioral standards are and what the consequences would be for failing to meet them — most commonly a detention for excessive tardiness. With online classes, however, expectations on acceptable attendance and behavior in class are often unclear — and with factors such as power outages and internet issues, students often have additional reasons to miss or be late to class.

“I’ve been unable to attend class twice because of power outages in my area,” Agrawal said. “It’s frustrating that events that are out of my control prevent me from showing up to school, but it’s part of the reality of online classes.”

Administrators said they have been focused on helping students succeed. Principal Greg Louie said that the school will not give students detentions while classes are online. Instead, they aim to work with both parents and students to figure out solutions for online learning difficulties. 

If a student reaches 10 absences in any period, they will be placed on a list from which the student’s guidance counselor and administrator can reach out to help them with their difficulties. Although this might not be as intimidating as the possibility of detention or Saturday school, it has been an effective alternative during the pandemic.

“SHS students are good students, and we will help them however we can to ensure they can connect to their classes and are engaged during remote learning,” Louie said.

Another issue with online learning is students using their phones during class. In a regular learning environment, it is usually obvious when a student is on their phone. On a Zoom call, however, it is much harder to tell, leading to more students using their phones and being distracted during class. 

In person, teachers would confiscate a student’s phone if they found students using them without permission in class, but it is impossible to do this online, forcing teachers to turn to alternative consequences such as docking points from a student’s participation grade.

“If students are using their phone for class, I'm happy with that,” Louie said. “If a student is lacking in maturity and respect to their teacher and is playing with something else during class, they are wasting the efforts of their teacher and creating a greater problem for themselves.”

In addition to administrators, teachers are making it a priority to help students adjust to virtual learning by providing office hours for students to come and talk. These office hours are a substitute for in-person tutorials, and in many ways make it easier for students to communicate with their teachers. Agrawal feels it is easier to speak one-on-one with a teacher after making an appointment rather than going to a classroom during tutorial and waiting in a line. 

The administration hopes that students working with teachers to solve their problems helps to avoid the need for punishment, as solving these problems could result in less absences, late work and tardiness.

“I just hope to show the students I care and that it is totally OK to make mistakes, so that everyone eventually feels comfortable enough in my class to talk and ask questions when they want or need to,” Biology teacher Kellyann Nicholson said.

Some students may have viewed online school as insignificant at first, but many have realized that it requires work  similar to in-person school. 

With new processes for submitting assignments online, some teachers may have loosened their late-work policies. Others have maintained similar late work policies as prior to the pandemic to ensure that students do not procrastinate.

“In the beginning of the year, some students tried to get out of deadlines or use weak excuses for not finishing their homework, but they soon realized it was just easier to do the work than spend all of their energy trying to get out of it,” Nicholson said. 

Although teachers mark students absent if they are late by a significant amount of time, Nicholson said she hasn’t encountered too many problems with students arriving extremely late.

Nicholson added that students must make the right choices for themselves to improve their online learning experience. This includes basics such as showing up to class on time and staying engaged throughout. 

“There's only so much we can do to make students stay in the meeting, just like there isn't much we can do to make students stay in a real classroom,” Nicholson said. “Ultimately, students have to make the decisions to care about school and to do the best they can during the pandemic.”


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