Distance learning hasn’t been easy for anyone. Excessive screen time is tiresome. Now that it’s December, classes begin once the sun rises and sets by the time we’re done with homework. It’s easy to complain about how much time we spend online without realizing that our situation is better than that of many others.
The recent spike in COVID-19 cases has pushed many schools in the Twin Cities online, though most have been online all year. Central High School’s schedule starts at 8:30 a.m. and goes until 3 p.m. with synchronous time from 10 a.m. to 11:15 a.m. and 12:30 p.m. to 2:05 p.m. Fridays are reserved for asynchronous learning time and some office hours at the end of the day. Highland Park Senior High School has synchronous class from 9 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. with the rest of the day free. Wednesdays are student independent work days. Both schedules include synchronous meeting times, but much less than St. Paul Academy’s 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. set up. Most learning in online school is visual and verbal, synchronous learning typically involves auditory learning which fits some students’ learning style better. It also provides an opportunity for students to ask questions. Finally, synchronous learning is a chance for social interaction which can be hard to come by these days. In addition to more synchronous time, SPA’s schedule also has designated time for club and affinity group meetings and advisory. These groups help maintain community through distance learning.
Across the nation, students fell behind by ⅓ of a school year after the transition to online learning last year. That gap has only increased with the continuation of distance learning this year. In a recent board meeting for St. Paul Public Schools, administrators revealed that 36% of students are currently failing, a 20% increase compared to the same time last year. These problems are not only affecting low-income students more, they’re also affecting students of color in specific. Data from 2014-2018 recorded by the American Community Survey found that students of color are more likely to be linguistically isolated, live in crowded conditions, have no computer or internet, or live in poverty, all of which are added obstacles to distance learning.
SPA has already cycled through several different schedules since transitioning to online learning in March 2020. Each schedule seems to bring criticism for one reason or another whether it be too much screen time, not enough chances to talk to teachers, too much work, too much free time, etc. Everyone has different needs, and it’s unlikely we will be able to find a schedule that fits to everyone’s preferences.
Long days of Google Meets are exhausting, there’s no denying that. But there’s also no denying that SPA’s distance learning schedule is an example of the privilege students here have.
Rather than complaining about a schedule that can never be one size fits all, acknowledge the benefits of the connection and support offered in the schedule. Relieve stress by communicating needs. Teachers, counselors, and parents are here to help. Let them know if you are struggling. Also, make smart breaks count: go outside, drink water, stay organized.