The good, the bad and the ugly of my remote learning 2.0 experience

Senior+Aaliyah+Magana+puts+her+binder+away+in+her+cubic+box+in+a+six-by-six+foot+bookcase%2C+a+part+of+her+at-home+learning+system+for+the+new+school+year%2C+after+the+online+school+day+has+ended.+%0A

Aaliyah Magana

Senior Aaliyah Magana puts her binder away in her cubic box in a six-by-six foot bookcase, a part of her at-home learning system for the new school year, after the online school day has ended.

Aaliyah Magana

I never expected to start the fall semester of my senior year at Sunny Hills like this — with distance learning 2.0.

As the previous school year ended there were rumors from various close friends that the virus would end during the summer months because of the high temperatures and we would be back in school by August, but they were wrong. I expected that Orange County would open up in time for the new school year after seeing countless social postings that compared the coronavirus to common flu, which do go away in the warmer months.  

My mother was willing to heed my pleas to sign up for in-class instruction under the Fullerton Joint Union High School District’s hybrid learning model, meaning I would attend on-campus classes twice a week, but still have three days of online classes from home. 

During the last weeks of summer, I stopped thinking of Aug. 11 as the first day of school because all I would have to do was keep my Acer R11 Chromebook charged and focus on staying up-to-date with the latest COVID-19 news.

But when I watched California Gov. Gavin Newsom explain in a July 17 news conference that reopening of schools would not happen for any county that was on the state’s watch list — including Orange County — until they stayed off the list for 14 consecutive days, I knew all my hopes of having a normal senior year were dashed when there was a spike in COVID-19 cases during the summer.   

Next, I began to wonder how many of the challenges I faced from the first day of remote learning on March 16 would continue this fall. So here’s what I’ve discovered about myself during this second go-around of Zooming from home — the good, the bad and the ugly.

Let me start actually with the “ugly” part first and end with the “good” part.

Since the first day of my senior year, I have gotten a little emotional when I think about the future of prom for the Class of 2021 or my graduation day — I fear that, like with the Class of 2020 before me, I will not be able to walk down that aisle amid my fellow graduates and participate in traditions like tossing our caps up in the air.

I often find myself thinking, more than twice a day, about what it would have been like to start off my last year normally and on campus. These thoughts do distract me when I’m doing homework, but I remind myself that our situation right now is only temporary.

My mom and I even had an agreement for my senior year that I would be able to go to all school dances and events to get the full high school experience before going to college. After I had spent hours talking on the phone with my best friend about what we would wear and who we would go with, I couldn’t help but cry when I found out the homecoming dance was postponed until February and that the prom dance wasn’t even in the ASB’s tentative calendar.

Instead, I’m stuck troubleshooting Zoom meetings when the Zoom application crashes, causing me to completely shut off my Chromebook and sign back in. Sometimes, more often than not, I’m late to my third period Advanced Placement Language and Composition class because of how many times I’ve had to restart my Chromebook.

When there is a problem with the link or password, I’ve resorted to text messaging my friends in the class to let the teacher know I’m present.

The “bad” started on the first day of online learning when I checked my Google Classroom dashboard and attempted to log on to my first meeting. I had noticed problems with Zoom toward the end of the summer when a message saying, “Meeting link is no longer valid,” or something similar would pop up and — again– cause me to completely restart my Chromebook. Another problem that would happen often is that as I opened up the extension, my Chromebook monitor would glitch, then shut off by itself, leaving me frustrated.

Despite these setbacks, I was pleasantly surprised to see that a lot more positive outcomes have come about these last five weeks, and the main reason for that stems from a more organized home life.

My mom organized our living room a week before the first day of school to have room for our textbooks and gave us our own cubic boxes in our bookcase to organize our school supplies efficiently. We each have basic school necessities (one-inch binder, black ballpoint pens, notebooks, etc.) in them and have the option to keep going to the living room bookcase when we need something or keep the box next to us.

I was still unhappy with the effects the coronavirus had on my senior year, but having an organized space to do my homework and my supplies just in the next room was really helpful.

An addition to our kitchen is a six-by-four foot whiteboard for my younger brother’s alphabet tape and educational posters which keep him entertained during our break time.

Another factor that helps me is the school’s “bell” schedule. Last semester, Sunny Hills stuck with its regular time frames for each period, break and lunch. But with the new distance learning schedule, the eight-minute passing periods between each class (except on Wednesdays) have helped me better prepare for my next class.

I now spend a good portion of that time filling out my physical planner — I need moments away from the screen, so I don’t use Google Calendar — keeping track of my homework and tasks for the day and crossing off those tasks that I’ve completed. Using a planner like this is nostalgic to my elementary school years because I had never used one during middle school or high school until this school year. I knew I would forget homework assignments and staying organized was going to be a problem because of how fast the school day goes by now. After the pandemic is over, I’ve decided to keep using the planner because of how useful it is for keeping my assignments and reminders in order.

 

Because I live at home with four other siblings, distance learning didn’t go as well last semester. With so many people sitting at our kitchen table, there was always someone passing behind me while my camera was on and I would have to double-check that I was muted before talking to one of my siblings. My sisters and I would argue over equal table space for our books on the table and leg room under it.

But now (after having a family meeting about how this could be for more than a semester) we are all used to one another’s new distance learning schedules, we give each other enough space and my house is fully functioning as a home and school.

My sister and I have implicitly assigned each other seats at our kitchen table so we have enough space to have what we need on the table and avoid showing each other on camera during our Zoom meetings. During our breaks, we go to our rooms to stretch and spend time away from each other.

Finally, two of my teachers use the breakout room feature on Zoom to mimic grouping students together so we can work on assignments together or discuss the homework from the night before. Not a lot of my teachers had known about this feature until this year because the switch to distance learning was rushed and last minute.

I can see that if I were an underclassman, this Zoom feature would be more stressful, especially since freshmen wouldn’t know each other. But since I’m a senior, and I know most of the students in my Zoom sessions, I am actually more relaxed when I’m in the same breakout rooms with them.

Seeing my friends makes the class more interesting because I initially didn’t check who was in my classes on Google Classroom so when one of them ends up in the same room as me (there’s usually four to 10 students), I smile a lot more and feel more comfortable with having my camera on so the interaction feels more like it would in person.   

Nowadays, I often think about my life after high school and what my college plans are because my senior year already feels over. I’m also trying to stay motivated and work hard even when I know I would focus more in an actual classroom.

Though I’ve read or watched media reports about teenagers suffering from emotional and mental illnesses because of being stuck at home so much, I have actually matured during the COVID-19 pandemic. I was able to even find a job that pays around $10 an hour in the food handling industry that I’ll start in October to save enough money to help pay for my tuition and my twin sister’s.

I never would have thought that the coronavirus pandemic would last until my senior year, which is a little depressing.

But I’m trying my best to make the most out of my situation — whether it’s the good, the bad or the ugly.