Students, parents, teachers say school is going better, but still imperfect

Parker Collins, PMS 6th grade, in her distance learning "classroom".

After months of debate and uncertainty over how and when school would start this fall, distance learning started in Piedmont on August 11. In contrast to the spring, expectations are higher and there are now grades, scheduled classes, mandatory attendance, and lesson plans that have been rolled out to facilitate effective online learning.

High school students generally feel that the new distance learning model is much better in terms of both learning and stress reduction. Zack Luna, a senior, stated that he felt “overwhelmed” last semester because teachers would simply, “pile on work with no instruction.” The new model has much more defined structure and engagement. Although students still desperately want to see their friends in person, the new model of distance learning where classes convene online regularly is much less isolating.

Those improvements aside, one of the main ongoing complaints is that the Monday schedule should be updated as the periods are too short for anything to be accomplished. Zozo Tahawi, a senior, found that, “by the time teachers finish greeting students and introducing plans for the week, the period is almost over.”

Computer and connectivity issues are common, but this was expected. John Savage, a sophomore chemistry teacher, believes that the school, “has made the best of a challenging situation.” His student are much more engaged and his lessons have been going smoothly due to successful collaboration with other teachers. Beth Black, an English teacher, believes that, “school is going better than expected. One of the biggest reasons for that is right now [her] students have been so eager to engage that there is a good energy even seeping through the screen.”

High school juniors are more sensitive to the flaws of online learning because their grades matter so much for college admissions. Many juniors believe that there is still a significant lack of organization. This is in part due to class websites that are difficult to navigate and assignments with unclear directions. Online learning simply is very challenging for juniors with difficult and rigorous classes. One junior interviewed, who did not want to be named, said that many students are, “not feeling good about this year.”

The situation at Piedmont Middle School is very similar to Piedmont High School. Parker Collins, a middle schooler, found that spring semester was, “repetitious and boring.” According to assistant principal Karyn Ship, “attendance is up and students are much more focused” relative to the Spring. Some middle school students even prefer distance learning because they feel it is less stressful. For the most part though, students miss face-to-face school because there is a severe lack of interaction in distance learning. Parker stated that, “there aren’t enough breakout rooms on zoom so [she] can’t meet and get to know people in [her] grade.” 

Distance learning is very difficult for elementary school students. Kids at that age don’t like sitting in front of a screen for hours on end. They are easily distracted and need constant parental supervision for both the synchronous and asynchronous parts of school. This makes it difficult for parents to get work done and is frustrating for young students who may not want their parents acting as teachers. During the September 9 School Board meeting, one teacher described witnessing a power struggle between a parent and child during a classroom session.

Despite the inherent challenges that come with distance learning for young kids, some parents are very pleased with the new distance learning model, especially compared to last year. Laura Maestrelli, an elementary school parent, had nothing but praise for her son’s Havens teacher: “His teacher has done an amazing job of keeping the kids engaged during those long sessions.” Additionally, the ability for the kids to see the faces of their teachers and classmates is tremendously beneficial in terms of successful instruction and happiness.

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