Opinion: La Jolla student has thoughts on campus closings, distance learning

La Jolla High School's track and athletic complex will likely remain empty and unused for much of 2020 as schools are closed to help reduce the spread of coronavirus (COVID-19) — and switching to online, distance learning instead.
(La Jolla Light File Photo)

Opinion / Guest Commentary / Our Readers Write:

In order to curb the spread of COVID-19, La Jolla High School closed its campus on Friday, March 16, 2020 “until public health officials determine that it is safe for students to return to classrooms.”

Such closures nationwide affect students in both their academic and personal lives.

Senior Zoe Guidry explained: “The closure canceled the track season just as I was lowering my times, which means I will have to provide the college coaches with slower times.”

Added senior Rosie Rooney: “My internship was canceled, and I don’t get to finish my senior year.” Since many internships — particularly competitive ones — require a student to dedicate many hours of hard work to be accepted, the cancellations can be devastating.

The Class of 2020 is especially impacted by the social-distancing rules because of the uncertainty surrounding the status of traditional senior activities — like prom. Throughout high school, many seniors have taken rigorous classes and participated in various extra-curriculars to grow as people during these years. Many seniors look forward to the end-of-high school activities as a rite of passage, so the potential cancellation of these traditions for their class is extremely disappointing and creates a level of anxiety for them.

The unprecedented nature of the mass closures in response to COVID-19 is also causing some students to feel uncertain about the future.

Junior Savannah Dennis shared: “Since the entire world around me has been shut down indefinitely, this has created a lot more stress and uncertainty in my life.”

The uncertainty is exacerbated by the fact that it is unknown when COVID-19 will begin to decline or whether there will be a second wave of infections after the social distancing is gradually reduced and the world is gradually re-opened.

La Jolla students are using various methods to cope with this unpredictable situation. Some, like Junior Cali Liu are investing the extra free time to develop their interests and hobbies.

Liu explained: “Having more free time has allowed me to develop my photography and art.”

Other students are getting in better shape for future sports. Sophomore Spence Carswell said: “It’s been pretty rough not playing any sports, but I’m still staying fit and getting stronger by working out.”

La Jolla High began a “soft-launch” Distance Learning Wednesday, April 8 to allow students and teachers alike to adjust to online school. On Monday, April 27, Distance Learning is planned to be fully implemented, which means assignments will be graded.

Principal Dr. Podhorsky provided additional details on the specifics on how grading will work from April 27 until the end of the school year. “For the rest of the year, students can only improve upon their grades from what they were on March 13, but grades cannot be lowered,” he said.

In short, any work assigned after March 13 will only be put in if it raises a student’s grade. The likely reason for this decision is to protect the students who are at an economic or social disadvantage. Sophomore Matthew Nunes commented: “That grading system is nice, but it gives no real incentive to do anything.”

Any approach to the grading system for Distance Learning has different drawbacks, other methods could have potentially impacted disadvantaged students.

The teachers are also affected by the closure because they have to adapt to the sudden change from an in-person classroom dynamic to an online one.

As English teacher Mr. Morgan noted: “We’ve had to totally change how instruction is delivered, re-write curriculum, learn new technologies. Under normal pacing, each of those would be a multi-month — if not multi-year — professional learning cycle, yet we had to do it in less than four weeks.”

With Distance Learning, teachers can choose between a synchronous or asynchronous teaching style for their online classes. Synchronous learning is more similar to the traditional classroom in that teachers set a specific time to meet and teach their students. Asynchronous learning involves a teacher posting the materials and lessons for students, who can then choose to learn when the time is right for them.

Katie Frost is a member of the La Jolla High School Vikings Class of 2022.