There’s something strange about getting to wake up at 7:30am on Monday morning and feeling a twinge of sadness. But if you’re a student who’s used to being at school at that time, happily chatting with friends, you probably feel the same way.
Covid19 has made dramatic changes to education systems worldwide, having students switch to online schooling or make a risky return in-person. I am a high school student from Montgomery County, where we have A and B days, with Wednesdays left open for virtual check-ins. This means that we get only two hours of class time for each subject per week. Much of our concept learning is done outside of class, while we practice problems or complete online labs together. As Matthew Pham, a senior Computer Science major at George Mason University, puts it perfectly. “Although the recording of lectures is nice, I feel that [during] in-person classes, I just absorbed information easily and am more attentive”. Kashmir Pandolfi, a fourth grade student and the Junior Drone Educator of Kashmir World Foundation, is homeschooling this year. It gives her much more flexibility in when and how she learns. “I like learning how to apply what I learned to everyday life, And also how to use what I applied to create new things”, she says.
A key part of education is socialization. “I don't get to see my friends everyday”, says Kashmir. “I could go to school and not have to be in the same place every day, going to my class[es], lunch, recess, P.E., music, art, etc.” In school, students connect to each other in a variety of ways: class discussions, friendly lunch chats, or club activities. We learn a lot from each other, especially as student bodies become more diverse. We have found different ways to connect though. “Some clubs that I used to be in have moved to online meeting times but others have simply been cancelled”, says Matthew. “I’ve moved online with the friends I hang out with too”. Kashmir started a book club so she and her friends could have learning playdates. In person, class discussions are always lively and full of emotion, whether it's casual banter or a heated debate. Online, all of these emotions are kept to a simmer. For many high school students, lunchtime chats are a great way to connect with teachers or clarify questions. “I generally was never really close to professors; I’m more of an early in early out type of student,” said Matthew. “I generally don’t interact by chatting for online class, but if everyone else is quiet, I'll try to weigh in so the professor doesn’t feel like they are talking to a wall.” My mom is a middle school paraeducator, and she often talks about how frustrating it is to be “teaching to a bunch of black screens and getting no responses”. Socialization isn’t limited to students; it’s crucial for our teachers’ well-being too. Seeing a group of teachers laughing together at lunch has always brought a smile to my face, and it’s one of those many, little joys that we’ve taken for granted. Luckily, “teachers are as enthusiastic as ever” in online lectures.
However, there are two sides to this coin - online schooling does have its benefits, the biggest one being the lack of commute. “I don’t have to drive to school which saves gas and money”, says Matthew. Over my high school experience, plenty of us students have shown up to school mentally exhausted or sick because we know that not going puts us further behind. Now that we’re online, classes can be recorded, and students can find a better school-health balance. For me, I’ve gotten more time to catch up on sleep, and the extra hour and a half means I can exercise, make breakfast with my family, and get a head start on textbook notes, all before classes start. “My favorite parts of homeschooling include spending time with my mom, not spending so many hours on the computer, and being with my pets”, says Kashmir. “My typical school days are very flexible, much more fun, and different everyday. I love that I do not have to wake up super early. I can sleep in and wake up cuddling my kittens as long as they let me!”
Many schools have unique aspects to them, events that bring the school together and reestablish community, a need reaffirmed through centuries of human evolution. High schools have so many traditions, from Homecoming hall decorations to pep rallies, and even a week-long speedball tournament at my school! As a senior, I was really looking forward to a last chance at experiencing these memorable moments. At George Mason, job fairs and town halls are being moved online. “Anything special that we may do probably isn’t really going to translate well.”
To me, the most important question about an education system is “how hands-on are you going to get?”. I think it’s an essential way to learn: by making mistakes, experimenting, and getting creative. I’m part of the Global Ecology program at my school, so we go on frequent field trips to apply what we’ve learned in our politics or environmental science classes in the field. They’re a huge part of what bonds us 70 students and are always such a fun way to learn. Luckily for Kashmir, she still gets to go on lots of field trips to apply her knowledge. “Last semester, I was in a ECE lab, where we had to assemble circuits. It was pretty miserable to begin with and it's even worse through the screen”, says Matthew. When we actually experience what we learn, it sticks and we remember it. While homeschooling, Kashmir works on many interdisciplinary and hands-on projects to solidify her learning. “I love applying what I learn in school to how it's used in real life. For example, we were learning about different types of angles such as acute, right, and obtuse and then I had to look for different types of angles around the house and how they are used in design and construction. I also learned how trees have acute and obtuse angles and best methods for pruning the trees. In school, if it's hands-on, it ends after the lesson, but at home our lessons can become a part of our everyday life.” She also did a webinar for KwF about the Anatomy of a Drone as a part of her homeschooling. While the bulk of her project includes studying biology and technology by comparing drones to bees, the presentation also strengthened other skills in public speaking and graphic design.
Covid19 will definitely change college campus, academics, and opportunities in the long term, but in what ways? “I hope that Covid19 and the move towards online won’t completely remove in-class options, but maybe online classes will now be a cheaper alternative that colleges offer for people who do not have the schedule or the location to attend every day”, Matthew says. “I think jobs, especially in the computer science field, will move towards remote work and jobs that can afford to move online will do so.” At the same time, we have to look for better ways to balance our commitments and well-being. To all kids (and even adults!) Kashmir says, “Don't stay on the computer all day, and go outside and play!”
Aliyah Pandolfi, Kashmir World Foundation’s Executive Director sums it all up. “In life, you either adapt to different challenges and evolve, or die. And dying is not an option; you have to survive. This is one of those periods of evolution, and it’s a learning opportunity.”