By MICHAEL LAKIND
After a whole summer of preparation for learning digitally, the Carmel High community still has one big question on their minds: What is CHS Connect?
Though the class has met just twice so far, the students of CHS have concluded it to be a disorganized hour of filler instead of the week-capping group hangout it was intended to be. CHS Connect is a brand-new, non-academic course that enrolls every student at CHS in a group of 20 or fewer students, under the leadership of one CHS faculty or staff member.
When asked for their thoughts on CHS Connect, words and phrases like “pointless,” “forced” and “waste of time” showed up in nearly every response from dozens of students. Students seem to have significant issues with being required to attend CHS Connect, from the act of sitting around for an hour talking about themselves to the way in which they were placed.
“It was said to be a place where I can relax and be with my friends, but the only people there are people I barely know,” says sophomore Dylan Byrd, who dislikes the randomness that went into formulating each group.
For the freshman class, CHS Connect poses the problem of anxiety regarding the act of getting involved. Entering a new educational environment in 2020 is crazy enough, but taking themselves off Zoom’s mute setting feels intimidating some.
“I do admit it is pretty awkward because Zoom makes it much harder to participate and interact with others,” freshman Christiana Kvitek says. “I personally don’t enjoy a whole lot of social interaction, which is definitely part of the reason I’m not a huge fan.”
Transfer students have found CHS Connect lacking in its promise to create an inviting and welcoming atmosphere. Trying to build off connections that have formed during a whole high school career together is a bit difficult for someone who just moved into the district.
“I just sort of went and said hi and left. I didn’t stay for more than two minutes,” says Caleb Roehrig, a junior who recently moved to Carmel Unified School District from Alaska. “I don’t really know anyone so being in said connect is sort of unhelpful. I just sort of [sat] around.”
Nearly two months ago, CHS principal Jonathan Lyons held a town hall on July 28 introducing the new school year’s procedures, including a loose explanation of CHS Connect. Many students and parents voiced their concerns about the vague nature of this new program, and for the most part they remained lost.
“We have intentionally moved away from a packaged curriculum opting for a more organic environment,” says Lyons of the lack of structure in CHS Connect. “What we are hoping to build is a space free of academic stress.”
Leading into this school year, the state of California issued requirement SB-98, a guideline for schools to better address students’ mental and emotional well-being while school is still online. Lyons used feedback from a survey completed last May to form CHS Connect, his answer to SB-98.
“It ensures that every student has an adult on campus that is looking out for their social-emotional welfare,” says English teacher and instructional coach Barbara McBride, who leads CHS Connect and provides support to other teachers. “It takes time to build community in a digital space so that students are comfortable conversing in that format.”
Even though CHS Connect is consistently unpopular with students, faculty members leading each group share a positive outlook on the program’s future prospects. The start of implementing CHS Connect has been a little rocky, but group leaders are confident that the experience will become much more enjoyable in the future.
“I get very little interaction with students now that we are in a distance-learning model,” says CHS assistant principal Debbie Puente, who feels optimistic about the future of CHS Connect and growing closer with her group. “This gives me a chance to connect with students and support them as needs arise.”
Overall, the lack of structure and reason to be there have deterred students from the premise of CHS Connect. Students have frequently expressed a distaste for attending CHS Connect and are looking to the future hoping for change.