Published May 6, 2021
By MARTIN SEVCIK
Every morning, hundreds of CHS students rush to school. They brush their teeth, pack their lunches and hop in their cars, hoping that they will be spared from the traffic on Highway 1. They are tired, disheveled and maybe even a little cranky.
Yet sophomore Simona Matiyevsky’s morning routine is a bit different: She opens a couple of laptops and logs into class. No commute. No backpacks. No rush. She isn’t even obligated to show her face.
Matiyevsky isn’t alone, either; for about a quarter of the Padres, school is still just a click away. Even as a majority of their peers return to in-person classes, distance learning is still a core part of these teens’ everyday lives, not out of necessity, but instead as a choice.
These high schoolers opted into concurrent, online classes, where teachers have been instructed to give online and in-person students equal attention, addressing both groups simultaneously through new cameras and other technology implemented into every classroom.
“The first couple of days were hard,” senior Pierce Nelson says. “Seeing everyone in the classroom made me think, ‘Man, maybe I made the wrong decision.’” But as the week progressed and Nelson became more accustomed to the new learning environment, he became more comfortable with his new reality.
Nelson’s experience is not unique. For these teens, many of whom have become accustomed to the old distance-learning model, the shift to campus-based learning was somewhat jarring. While some differences were to be expected, many Padres were surprised at how meaningful these changes were.
The main change was that distance learning students felt somewhat unprioritized in the new classrooms, despite the school’s efforts to create an even playing field.
“The teachers are generally gravitating towards the kids in the classroom, which makes a lot of sense because they are physically there,” Matiyevsky says. “I feel like there is a little bit less interaction between teachers and online students — at least, I’ve noticed that in my classes.”
Matiyevsky and her peers report that certain teachers are more focused on the distance-learning students than others, meaning that their experience changes from classroom to classroom. Some of these teens appreciated distance learning because it allowed them to work independently. For these students, receiving less teacher attention is a benefit, not a drawback.
For others, this shift has made distance learning unequivocally harder, and perhaps worse than it was earlier in the year.
Sophomore Julia Hadland enjoyed distance learning because it cut all the fat from the CHS experience, focusing almost exclusively on academic classes. This meant she could spend more time on what matters to her — surfing and finishing her homework — and less time at rallies and other nonessential activities. For her, this recent transition eats away at that dynamic: “I wish we could have stayed like that for the rest of the year.”
A good number of these students note that their choice was made out of practicality. For Nelson, the in-person school schedule conflicted with his extracurricular and work schedules. Sophomore Siri Panetta, who lives half an hour away from the school, felt it was more productive to stay online than to spend an hour commuting every day. Others use the extra time to relax, study and run errands for their family.
Another major concern is safety. Even as the school promised social distancing and mask-wearing policies, some students felt that returning was not worth the risk.
“It’s mostly the fact that some of my classmates aren’t being as safe as they could be that puts me on edge,” senior Shannon Jackson says. “I don’t think the school can regulate them, so I chose to not have to deal with them at all.”
As such, returning to campus is an unnecessary risk for many of these students, especially for those who feel comfortable with online learning. While many high schoolers felt disengaged and unmotivated when online, more than a few adapted effectively to learning from home. For them, a return to in-person school is not on their priority list, and they are happy to bide their time and wait until later.
Even some seniors giving up their days of in-person high school to stay online feel unmotivated to return. Senior Tyler Bellem plans to attend college next fall and is content waiting until college to return to in-person classes, even though he will be “stuck online” until then. Where other seniors felt motivated to experience every last moment of in-person high school possible, Bellem felt satisfied with the year he’s had, even online.
“As a senior, spending my final year of high school in distance learning isn’’ something I ever expected to have to go through, and of course we lost a lot having to go through it,” Bellem says. “But honestly, it could have been a lot worse. I know personally during this time, even though we were stuck online, I still formed plenty of memories.”
At the other end of the spectrum are freshmen, who will have spent a quarter of their high school experience without ever attending a class on-campus. For these freshmen, though, that might be exactly what they need to feel comfortable in a high school environment.
“My first year of high school in distance learning was like a blessing in disguise,” freshman Malia Stoney says. “I struggle with severe mental health issues, including extreme anxiety and panic disorder. Since middle school, I have always dreaded going to high school my freshman year, being so nervous and afraid to have a panic attack on campus.”
Stoney explains that this year has given her the time and tools she needs to better prepare for her first year on campus. She feels confident and excited to return next fall semester.
This sentiment rings true for almost all of these distance learners. While online learning may be the best approach for the time being, these students are glad that this is only a temporary situation and excited to return next school year.
But for now, these students feel satisfied with their choices. Whatever their reason, these students have committed themselves to a unique schooling experience in a year unlike any other. If nothing else, their dedication is to be admired.