After an uncertain few months, Bob Jones High School is getting back on its feet. Last March, students and teachers adapted to unforeseen circumstances through “enrichment” and a more relaxed approach to learning. No one knew what summer would bring, and the district had to scramble to adjust plans for re-opening schools; as coronavirus cases climbed, the administration decided that coming back in-person would have to be delayed. Until then, students and teachers are using Schoology as an online learning platform. Though not as user-friendly as services like Google Classroom, Schoology is built to support virtual meetings and more thorough instruction. “[Classes are] more project-based and writing-oriented, since that’s the best way to measure individual growth and what the student knows,” said Ms. Poarch, who teaches AP Literature. Everyone is working hard to make virtual learning a great experience.
However, not everything has been smooth sailing. Many students say that Schoology’s layout is confusing, and teachers have been hosting classes at conflicting times. Due to some overlap between virtual-only and in-person-hopeful schedules, students have some or all of their live conferences at the same time of day. As classwork begins to ramp up, keeping track of assignments and due dates could be a problem; many students have expressed issues with submitting work and being unable to watch recordings of meetings they missed. “Can someone please share with me the tech support contact…at MCS?” asked a parent in a local group chat.
Other students have too few assignments to work on. “I always feel like I’m missing something,” said Andie D’Amico, Bob Jones junior. Kids are having trouble balancing a largely unstructured school day with the level of work they receive. Teachers meet via WebEx for no longer than forty-five minutes a day, and though personal conferences help, video meetings cannot cover all bases.
Even despite the hiccups, there have been unexpected advantages to virtual learning. For one, many kids are happiest and most comfortable working from home, setting their own routines, and avoiding stressful situations. For students with social anxiety, it might mean being more comfortable reaching out to a teacher over email; others are enjoying a newfound sense of freedom and confidence in their time management skills. “I feel like my time is more flexible, and I’m more motivated to work because I’m not sitting in a classroom for ninety minutes,” said Madeline Dobbs, Bob Jones senior. “Instruction is more to-the-point, I think.” This especially holds true for those who enjoy working on their own with minimal distractions or supervision. Teachers may find it difficult to pack every detail into forty-five minutes, they have faith in their students’ capabilities. In a sense, the loosened schedule is even preparing students for the more individualized experience of college.
The real question right now is how—or if—we’re going to go from virtual back to in-person classes. In an ideal world, we would already know if we were headed back to school anytime soon, but an element of uncertainty still exists. Teachers and administration have to prepare for all outcomes, especially as schools reopen across the country with varying degrees of success. Whatever the case, Madison City schools are going to be careful, pragmatic, and safety-first. When asked what the ideal back-to-in-person preparation might look like, Mrs. Lambert said, “This transition might look like half of our students coming to school for two days and then a deep cleaning day followed by the second half of the students attending for two days.” Eventually, schools will return to normal, but in the meantime, Bob Jones is taking charge and helping students put their best foot forward.