Zoomers Choose Zoom

By: Julian Mosley'21

In response to the global COVID pandemic, most schools in the United States have opted to switch to one of two options: either attend class entirely online by way of e-conference services such as Zoom or Google Meet, or choose to implement a mixed schedule wherein some fraction of the class physically attends school on a certain day while the rest of the students check in from home. Here at Saint Stephen’s and Saint Agnes, the latter has been the primary choice. Near the start of the academic year, a great number of the students who were able to come to school chose to do so. Lately, though, it seems that more and more students who have the option of coming to school on a given day simply don’t. Instead, they join the many faces on the classroom screen who tune in from Zoom. I asked two students that did so to see what they had to say.


Emma Hughes ‘21 has been entirely virtual since the first day that in-person learning was an option. “In the beginning, it was partially because I didn't feel like going back to school and dealing with all of the covid precautions needed. Then my family kind of realized that we only have one income because of COVID… So I just have to be more cautious because I like having an income, and my parents do too.” This choice, however, has not hindered her social life. “I mean, I would say I'm definitely more social with the people I want to be social with. I'm not having the casual conversations, but I'm still hanging out with my friends on the weekend and talking to the people I talk to.”


Sydney Southworth ‘21 initially came to school for the in-person option, but switched to learning entirely online for a multitude of reasons. “I went fully online for a few reasons. One is that I have a tendency to hang out with a lot of people on the weekends… So I feel like it's kind of unfair if I hang out with people over the weekend, and I'm not following social distancing rules tonight as much as I probably should... I feel like it's unfair if I go to school and expose people that are actually serious about it and really are at risk and don't want to get it. I also live an hour away, so driving there and back takes a lot of time out of my day… Another thing is I had hip surgery earlier this summer, so I have an over hour long workout that I have to do every day. Just staying home allows me to get a lot more work done. I also have a job five days a week, and that takes four hours out of my day. That's just another reason.”


I was interested in learning more about the benefits of going entirely virtual. Emma maintained that “it's just easier. You don't have to deal with commuting from classroom to classroom, you don't have to worry about bringing your lunch because you have a microwave, you have a refrigerator, you're in your own house. And it's just a lot more relaxing because I can stay in my room, I can hang out with my dogs. If I leave something, I still have it with me and I don't have to deal with all of the things you normally have to for school.” 

Sydney mentioned that she’s more productive at home. “Well at school, I feel like you're walking between classes for 15 minutes, and like, you have to stay outside for lunch, so it's hard to actually get your work done. So by staying home, in between class I can get work done.”


It appears that these online classes have been running fairly smoothly thus far. Both Sydney and Emma agree that the teachers have done a fine job of operating these virtual classrooms. Sydney maintains that the teachers have done a great job in utilizing the online platform, “especially with the school requiring the teachers to do the schedule on their class page. I think the teachers have done a really good job of incorporating showing the videos and having projects work at home… I had an art class, and they gave us the supplies already. I think it's obviously harder, because there's not a lot of group interaction, but I think like teachers are doing a really good job of making the breakout rooms engaging, and not every class is the exact same, which is good.”


Emma feels like “it's a little bit harder sometimes because students might decide they don't want to go to school, so they all end up being virtually and the teachers are a little taken back and are like, ‘Oh, okay, I guess I have to change things around.’ But in general, the teachers are really good about making sure that they're accommodating to people who aren't necessarily in the classroom.”


With that being said, their opinions on how the homework has been handled differ slightly. Emma claimed that “there's no, like poster board projects anymore for most of the classes, and it's really easy to turn things in via Google Docs or the assignment topic page.” Sydney directed her attention to the mass amount of platforms used to submit work. “For most of my classes, you're using the note app, and then you take a PDF, and that's honestly been fine. I haven't had a problem like, ‘Oh, I don't think you got this homework assignment.’ But I think it could be better… There's so many different ways that you can turn in your assignments like Google Classroom, AP classroom, email, shared Google Drive, or whatever it is… I feel like every teacher has been really clear about it, but there's a lot of kids that have missed assignments because they weren't sure exactly how to do it or they weren't very clear on when to submit it or what time to submit it.”


Despite being virtual for class, the two still come to the campus for other activities. Sydney makes her way to the campus for athletics. “I would go to school for like lacrosse; there was the five week training session. I would go to those. And my job involves coaching, so I do a lot of coaching with the girls, so I do go to those.” Emma comes to school about twice a month, usually for “COVID testing, one act rehearsals and some of the senior events. So yeah, I'm virtual, but I'm still going to school and doing the big events.”


When I asked them about their thoughts on Zoom learning being an option post-COVID, they both doubted that scenario would happen. Emma believes it should be an option, “because for some people's mental health, it could be better and they could be more productive... I also realized [that] the school would never approve of that, given how much they push an in person community.” Sydney feels that there's a lot of benefits of going into school. “I feel like a lot of people would choose online without like the pandemic, and it’d just be bad for their actual health in the long run. I think it's good for people to be online now, but once everyone is vaccinated, I think that it should go back to how it was before.”


I wanted to see how in line with the administration this opinion was, so I sat down with Mr. Michael Mallett, director of the Upper School, to talk about it. “No, I don't think [it should be] a normal option, but I think an option for students who need that. I think that in person learning is the core of our mission about bringing teachers and students together in person; I feel like we can do our best work when we're together. If there's a family who needs that support, we're going to work with that family, but I wouldn't say it's normal in the sense that we want to feel like we want to say that we can be the best school we can be through distance learning… I would never turn a kid away who has a medical circumstance or a necessity.. But I would say that we would want to lean into the in person learning as much as possible.” 


When I talked to Dr. Jamie Segraves, associate director of the Upper School, about the data concerning students who have chosen to revert to fully online learning, she highlighted the fact that the number of students who may show up on a given day is not as consistent as it may initially appear to be. “I have a master list of students or family decisions that we know about, and I can say on that list that [there’s] probably sixty to seventy families who chose to stay in distance learning. However, we were seeing a trend where students might come one day versus another on their assigned days, so that list of families is kind of meaningless, if that makes sense, where that number could very heavily increase or decrease. So that number is not even accurate anymore.” 


Regarding the immediate plan of action for the two week stretch between Thanksgiving and the Holiday break, it is uncertain what the plan is going to be; it’s unclear whether or not SSSAS will be going entirely virtual during this period. I asked Mr. Mallett if he had any idea on what the plan was. “If I really had an answer, I would tell you. I don't know. I think that that decision comes from our head of school and consultation with our medical team, and also paying attention to the community metrics, looking at the positivity rate, looking at things like that. I know that it would be a possibility. I think that we could pivot to distance learning, but we always kind of knew that was going to be a possibility if the conditions were such that we needed to, but I don't have I really don't know.” 


Dr. Segraves said something similar. “That's a good question. I don't know what we're going to do. I know that we're going to try to be here as long as we possibly can. If cases continue to increase in the area, and it's no longer safe to potentially come to school, then we have a beautiful way to transition back to distance learning. But for now, until told otherwise, we're going to be here other than the two distance learning days returning from Thanksgiving, as you know.”