When cities and towns around the world rang in the New Year, few thought that the world would soon be enveloped in a global pandemic that would leave no community, small or large, affluent or destitute, unscathed. In fact, even when the outbreak began in Wuhan, China, many in Yorktown, including myself, spent little time pondering the implications of such an outbreak as the possibility of the virus impacting our community seemed impossible. Yet reality would soon strike on March 11, when students of the Yorktown community would come to realize that the Coronavirus Pandemic, which had been previously viewed as a threat exclusive to far-away lands, would indeed threaten our well-being and ways of life as we had once known them.
Concerns regarding the virus were varied depending on the individual. While almost every student seemed to prioritize the health and well-being of their loved ones, adjusting to a new form of learning was a challenge in and of itself. Students of various strides have described the personal difficulties they had faced when transitioning from interacting with their teachers regularly to being expected to understand much of the material on their own. Simply put, Melissa Severino, a current junior and hybrid student at Yorktown High School, described her experiences with remote learning, stating, “It was harder for me to retain information and understand the material.” In my own experiences, learning remotely requires increased drive and independence as watching your teachers complete problems on a 13-inch screen is neither intuitive nor engaging. Yet, still, many students decided to remain fully remote for at least the first semester of the 2020-2021 school year. So, after experiencing the many woes that remote learning entailed in the spring, many might ask, why would anyone want to commit to remote learning when given the opportunity to do otherwise?
The decision of whether or not to attend in-person classes was one made for a variety of different factors, not purely because one method of learning is easier than the other. While some students were, in fact, swayed because they wanted to socialize with friends and learn in the presence of their teachers, other students had vastly different reasons for why they wanted to remain at home. Personal fears and capabilities, on many occasions, for better or for worse, dictate our lives and the decisions we make. And, choosing to remain fully-remote or attend in-person classes is by no means an exception. Kaitlyn Sek, a current junior, discussed her fears related to wearing masks while making her decision, stating, “I chose to remain fully remote because I personally have a hard time wearing a mask all day.” Other students I talked to referenced other concerns regarding the virus, not in terms of contracting the virus themselves, but rather becoming a potential host for which the virus can spread to others. All such fears are well-founded and serve as a reminder that in the midst of a global pandemic as impactful as the Coronavirus has been, decisions are made not only with academic interests in mind but also to ensure that we are successful in life and healthy.
Without any doubt, a pandemic of such a large-scale would require all of us to adjust our lives to adhere to the new normal. Both groups of students, those who chose to partake in the hybrid model and those who chose to attend fully remote, needed to adjust once again when school began this past September. So, the question still remains, have students who decided to remain fully-remote been able to adjust? And, if they have, how?
Students such as myself could not imagine having to learn and be responsible for the material that is being taught to us wholly online and without direct teacher interaction. As one junior at Yorktown High School, Sathwika Gade, described, “It was difficult to master the material before and it still is.” Yet, some students have been able to overcome some of the obstacles that had debilitated them in the spring. One of the major issues that many students faced when learning remotely was learning hands-on subjects, such as math, online. Additionally, other students found that more work would have to be understood and completed independently because there was less interaction with their teachers. While the latter still holds true during this academic school year, fully-remote student, Kaitlyn Sek, has been able to overcome the obstacle of learning material online through the increased use of technology. As Kaitlyn described, compared to the spring, teachers have increasingly relied on google meet and zoom calls to interact with and teach their students. For fully-remote students such as Kaitlyn, these efforts have had a meaningful impact on their ability to grasp the material, even if they are not physically present. However, some obstacles have not been overcome as easily; notably, the fact that fully-remote students are required to spend hours of their day exclusively on a computer screen. To make matters worse, not only are classes completely online, but all of the assignments and homework are given virtually as well, which makes it difficult for students to take a break from their screens.
Especially for juniors who are taking numerous high-level courses as well as studying for the SAT and ACT, the degree of screen time necessary to be successful has become overwhelming for many. Another fully remote student, Maya Karintholil, a junior at Yorktown High School, described the difficulties that she continues to have, stating, “I have to sit by a computer for almost seven hours straight with no breaks. After powering through those hours, I then came to the understanding that there are still hours of homework to be done, mostly on a computer.” And, while Maya’s workload is undoubtedly exacerbated given that she is a junior, across every grade level there is still the reality that kids are likely spending seven hours, the equivalent of a school day, behind a screen. Nonetheless, all of the fully remote students I had spoken to do not regret their decision, serving as a testament to their understanding of the crisis at hand and their versatility as they navigate a new school environment in hopes of academic success.