OPINION: Too Much Distance, Not Enough Learning

Finding the motivation to do online school has been frustratingly hard for most students

Elicia Ramu, Editor

This whole online school thing does not seem to be working.

Speaking as a student, we feel like we’re barely learning anything. We find it extremely hard to wake up during the day with motivation to do schoolwork with all the days running together. With our grades frozen anyway, most of us would just rather focus on what’s going on in our lives than what’s going on on Schoology.

What we’re asking is, what’s the point of school right now?

I am aware that we students have to finish out the rest of the school year so we can get the days that we need to finish (even though it would be much easier to have summer break just start early). I know that teachers need to keep earning their paychecks and that those in AP classes have their tests in the next couple of weeks. I also understand the need for education and I typically like school.

But this isn’t school. This is futility.

As the weeks go on, we students are losing the motivation to even try in our classes. It isn’t that the work is hard–in fact, it is sometimes insultingly easy–but the students currently feel they are the ones doing all of the work. They feel they are teaching themselves while all our teachers do is post work at the start of the week and host a Webex meeting for an hour a day. Parents are the ones sitting with their kids helping them do the work in order to get the participation points they need for that week instead of teachers.

“I don’t know what’s going on in most of my classes,” sophomore Kaiden Spirz told me when I asked her how online school is going for her. “It’s hard to figure out when I’m going to do it especially with my family giving me other stuff to do as well.”

That’s the other thing: it seems like the school doesn’t understand that schoolwork isn’t our only responsibility. We have chores and work on top of our work–those of us who still have jobs have seen our positions jump to full time now that we are essential workers. Many of us are also babysitting our younger siblings while our parents are at work, and we’re too busy teaching them to get our own learning done. Many of us are cooking dinner or making store runs for our families and we have no time to work on pointless assignments.

That’s the other thing: it feels like the work we do for school doesn’t matter anymore. Instead of getting grades, we get participation points that, unless we ask, we can’t even see. Not only can our grades not change right now but we can’t use the grade book to track the supposed points we are getting. I have no idea if I’m actually doing well in my classes or not. Neither do my parents. And since our grades have been frozen, I don’t really see the point in getting the work done.

Most of my teachers don’t even respond to the Schoology work and give me feedback anymore–only in a couple of my classes have I seen a rubric since all this online work started–and this is the most frustrating thing of all. We spent so much time in our classes earlier this year talking about how we need to look at our scores and reflect on getting better, but now I have no idea how to get better. If I do an assignment and get a 2, that tells me nothing. I can do every assignment given to me, but without consistent feedback, I’m not really learning anything. I’m just doing busy work.

And I hate it not because I feel like I’m wasting my time–I hate it because I miss what school is.

Being in school isn’t just a place to learn–it’s a place to escape. It’s a place to see friends and to get away from the frustrations of home or family emergencies. Even with the bells and the class structure, it gives us some freedom even if it’s just a few hours. We get to select our schedules and learn about things that interest us. School lets us talk with our teachers one-on-one and have the presence of knowledge and caring adult when some students lack one at home. But teachers who regularly stay after school to help students and work through lunches to help motivate students have been mostly absent now.

And we need their presence now more than ever. Perhaps the biggest obstacle to us getting anything out of school is that we’re not just locked in our homes with no escape: we’re locked in our homes with nothing but our anxiety. We hear the news reports and get the same updates about restrictions, and we are praying that some normalcy will be put back into our lives. Many of us already struggle with anxiety and depression and the current situation has us frozen in place, unable to process what we do next. On top of everything else, we have an existential dread sapping away the last of our motivation.

It’s hard to write an essay when you feel the world is ending.

This past week, Governor Jared Polis and other health experts have said that distance learning may have to continue into next year. This is understandable–we have to do whatever we can to keep our most vulnerable populations from catching this virus–but this is unacceptable. The current ystem of online school that St. Vrain has implemented is an inadequate waste of our time and needs to be changed before next year.

So district leaders: you have three months before the first day of school next year. Come up with a better plan.Find a way to make classes feel like classes. Find a way to make everything feel more connected. Let us be able to see and keep up with our grades. Give us clear feedback so we can a actually learn and not just be in school. Listen to the voices of your current students so you can establish a more productive system. Ultimately, whatever plan is in place affects us more than anyone else right now, so need a say on how to make it work better. We are all in this together, as a school and a district. And we will conquer the rest of this school year if you work to make next school year better than this.