By Gaby Rios and Gabrielle Galarowski
For Marta Carbol, who teaches Spanish at Brother Rice High School, the transition to online learning at the dawn of the pandemic was difficult at first.
“In the Spring, it was a very difficult thing for me to cope with, because I was not very well prepared, you know nobody was,” she said. “This was so new to everyone, when had we ever shut down the school for that length of time?”
On March 21, Gov. J.B Pritzker’s first statewide stay at home order went into effect beginning at 5 p.m. that day, through April 7, which marked the state’s most aggressive step yet, in order to curb the spread of COVID-19.
Chicago Public Schools have remained closed this fall and online through at least winter break, and many suburban schools that had been offering hybrid courses moved to online-only in November when COVID-19 cases skyrocketed.
For many, the transition to online learning proved to be a challenge. As with a traditional face-to-face classroom setting, teachers have the ability to interact with their students, present learning material in an engaging manner, and check the understanding of their students. For Brother Rice High School, located at 10001 S Pulaski Rd in Chicago’s SouthWest side, the order came with a harsh reality that COVID-19 was not going away anytime soon.
As the world was learning how to adapt in the pandemic era, schools like Brother Rice had to change curriculum to online models and teach in a completely different way than what many had grown accustomed to.
Carbol had to come up with a new assignment each day for the students because they didn’t meet after the stay at home order went into effect. Carbol would have to grade over 400 emails a day and if she missed one day, the next day, she would have double the assignments to grade.
However, she said she views this as a blessing because it helped her to become proficient in using technology, and helped her to prepare for a hybrid model that Brother Rice decided to implement for the fall semester. Carbol had to be more creative with her work so all her students could focus, and that the students at home could feel more included.
Researchers at Brown University teamed up with school administrators to launch their first set of data from a new National COVID-19 School Response Data Dashboard, created to track cases of the virus.
From November 9th to November 22nd, out of the 812,698 high school students enrolled, only 367,001 students are in person.
“What the high school did, is that they divided the school literally in half,” said Andrea Quinn, a parent of Seamus, a Brother Rice senior. “So, one group is the maroon group and the other half is the orange group. And they divide each grade level in half.”
Seamus Quinn easily adapted to the sudden change.
“I don’t think it’s really affected me that much, seeing as everything in this world has shifted online, and my teachers are really good at getting information to us,” he said. “Especially now since I contracted coronavirus, and I am quarantining. It’s just been really easy, and it’s not that big of a switch from in class learning to e-learning.”
Seamus is adapting well to online learning, but he is still missing out on significant events, such as prom, graduation, and other high school experiences. He also misses the social interactions that came with an in person education.
“I miss seeing my friends that I would see on a daily basis, because we don’t always have classes together, since we are on a 50/50 schedule,” he said. “It’s a bit lonely sometimes just missing faces that I would normally see everyday, but I’m getting used to it, and hopefully by this time next year, we won’t have to worry about this virus, and we’ll all get to be together again.”
Even though Seamus has not fallen behind, some students have.
Carbol has a few students that didn’t adapt well to online learning. Some of her students are having a hard time focusing in class. Carbol has reached out to those students by calling home and emailing that she will help them in any way she can to see them succeed.
Some students have dismissed Carbol’s help, and are struggling with the transition, while some are stressed because of the pandemic and the different learning environment that is currently transpiring.
According to an analysis of Google search data, searches of in person, and online learning has surged throughout the United States. The concern is high, and many are wondering what will become of their education.
According to Pew Research Center, 65% of K-12 parents are concerned that their children are falling behind in school. With 72% of lower income parents concerned, 63% of middle income parents, and 55% of upper income parents are concerned how this pandemic will affect their children’s education.
Online learning has not only affected teachers and students, but parents as well. For Andrea Quinn, she talks about how the process has allowed her son to have a better focus on school.
Parents have to make sure that they are quiet while their children are at school. Some parents have made quiet spaces for their children to do online learning at home. Quinn makes sure that her son doesn’t have any distractions around, but ultimately it is Seamus’ responsibility to not get distracted.
“From a high school perspective, because the way the school was prepared and initiated it, it has been a seamless transition, from an educational component of things,” she said. “He is still held accountable for the attendance, the assignments, for everything.”
Distractions are becoming an increasing issue for some students that are at home compared to being in the classroom and the teacher must try to keep them focused. While distractions don’t affect Seamus, it has affected other students, who believe it is a good time to play video games or some other distracting activity during class.
Society is always changing, unpredictable events happen, schools are adapting to provide the best education that they can.
Even though Brother Rice High School originally struggled with the immediate transfer to online learning, they are currently striving with the hybrid model. They are keeping students engaged and learning. It also incorporates the much needed social interactions that come with being in person that many students crave and miss.
The ongoing COVID-19 crisis is giving Brother Rice students first-hand experience of how to manage unexpected events, which further gives them the tools to manage future crises as they progress through their lives.
“The teachers are really trying to do the best that they can, and keep things moving along,” said Quinn. “Like they would be doing on a normal class day.”