This headline was the subject of an email Carmel High School science teacher Thomas Dooner sent out to his students on April 3. With his usual humor, he reminded them that although they weren’t learning in a classroom anymore due to the coronavirus pandemic, he still expected them to keep up with the work.

“I have heard from very few of you in the last couple days,” Dooner wrote at the time. “Where did you all go?”

Dooner’s dilemma has been echoed in schools worldwide and here at home in Monterey County, where teachers, students and their families are working to make the adjustment to online learning with California schools closed for the rest of the 2019-20 school year.

“I had a lot of problems doing homework before quarantine, and now…I just haven’t been getting around to it,” sophomore Evan Vitiello explains. “Now that I don’t have anyone or anything motivating me to do school, it’s really difficult.”

At such an unusual end to their high school careers, many seniors are also feeling their senioritis like never before.

“It’s awful,” senior Mac Keller shares. “I do the bare minimum, and the Zooms are always so boring.”

Out of more than 70 CHS students surveyed, approximately 42% report that they had not turned in all their online work by the end of the third quarter. Approximately 21% reported that they felt their teachers weren’t regularly available for help.

“The hardest thing about the online work is when I don’t understand something, I don’t have the teacher to turn to for help,” sophomore Ruby Carr describes. “There is email, but sometimes it’s hard to get your question across clearly.”

Both teachers and the Carmel Unified School District have taken steps to help keep students on track and reduce the impact of online learning on their grades and comprehension. Now, for example, teachers district-wide are not required to turn in daily attendance to Aeries. However, as CHS vice principal Debbi Puente notes, that does not mean that students are no longer being held accountable.

“We have to be really fluid and understanding,” Puente says. “At the same time, if you don’t go [to your online classes], if you don’t connect with your teachers and keep up with the work, you’re going to get really far behind, and next year will be really tough.”

Assistant principal Debbi Puente working to assist CHS students from her home office.

CHS’ absentee policy for online learning is the same as for in-person learning: If students don’t do their work, they run the risk of failing the class and having to repeat the year or attending summer school at some point.

But CHS is doing everything they can to ensure that no students fail.

 “Teachers pay attention to who’s there and who isn’t going or not turning in work,” Puente explains. “Then they let us know so that support staff can help follow up to keep them on track.” 

Once notified, CHS support staff–who include among them attendance secretary Ann Berry, counselors’ secretary Linda Galuppo, athletic department secretary Tammy Waldman and library assistant Valarie Stack–reach out to students and parents via call, text or email to encourage students in their schoolwork.

Although no hard data has been compiled on the matter, as Puente explains, CUSD’s broad estimate on how many kids are actively participating in online learning is approximately 90%. The number of students who need an extra reminder varies from class to class. 

“About 15% of students have missing assignments [currently], which is higher than normal,” science teacher Don Freitas says, “But it’s excellent considering the circumstances that we are facing.”

English teacher Dale DePalatis agrees. With online learning comes the toll of having to work in a home environment, where students aren’t accustomed to doing their schoolwork all day every day.

“I’m used to going out to coffee shops to grade essays and for me, it just takes more time,” adds DePalatis, noting that teachers are adjusting to the same changes as their students. “My brain likes to be more at rest when I’m at home.”

As the district has suggested, many teachers, including DePalatis, Dooner and Freitas, are posting all schoolwork for the week on Sunday or Monday to be due on the following Friday. 

DePalatis has seen high participation rates throughout all his classes, with roughly the same number of missing assignments in Aeries as before online learning.

 “I’ve tried to maintain the same things we’ve been doing throughout the year,” says the English teacher, attributing it to consistency. “Maintaining those kinds of patterns has helped kids.”

Students might also be constrained by at-home responsibilities, which have increased for many since the start of the quarantine. Since all CUSD schools are closed, including elementary and middle schools, many CHS students now look after their siblings while their parents are working. 

“I have missing assignments because I have to look after my little brother every day,” explains freshman Kateryna Bilinsky, whose parents work during her school day.

For now, faculty and staff encourage Padres to just keep up the good work. CHS teachers are right there to support them through the end of this unusual school year–and miss students as much as students miss teachers. 

“The students I teach are among the highest quality human beings I have ever been associated with,” Dooner says. “And my biggest source of sadness is that I lost the opportunity to finish up the year having fun with them while giving them the high quality educational foundation they deserve.”

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