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COVID-19 outbreak forces school shutdowns, affecting students’ education

By Mark Haiko and Angela Hwang

Staff Editors

Columbia Middle School (in Sunnyvale) eighth grader Logan Obrero said his annual seventh and eighth grade music class trips to Disneyland were canceled in early March due to the Coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak, which resulted in many disappointed students. Efforts were made to find alternate solutions, as the musicians need a goal for motivation, but, as Obrero puts it, “Nothing’s gonna replace Disneyland.”

Columbia Middle School eighth grader Logan Obrero PHOTO CREDIT: Logan Obrero

While disappointed, many students understood that canceled school trips were only the start. They were aware that school may be shut down in the near future. What they didn’t realize, however, was how soon shutdowns would happen, nor how long they would last. 

Fremont High School sophomore Kiana Lee was surprised when she learned her school was shutting down. “I thought it would come a little later because they just notified us just before that we were going to keep having school no matter what. Stay calm, wash our hands and we’ll keep having school,” she said.

As of March 22, “46 states have decided to close schools. Combined with district closures in other states, at least 121,000 U.S. public and private schools are closed, are scheduled to close, or were closed and later reopened,” Education Week wrote. They added that it was “affecting at least 54.5 million school students.” Bay Area schools will remain closed until May 1.

“I knew it was coming so I wasn’t surprised,” a mother of four boys who attend schools ranging from elementary to high school in the Campbell Union School District and the Campbell Union High School Districts who requested to remain anonymous as a member of her family was employed by the school system. She gave us permission to call her Cathryn. She said in regards to Bay Area schools remaining closed until May. “I don’t like it, but at this point, it’s what’s best for the state and country.”

Schools teach students many different subjects and strive to teach them to be contributing members of society. They also double as childcare. According to an article, “‘Essential employees, first care responders, healthcare workers, etc., have to go to work. Schools are closed, what are we going to do for our kids?’ said Sacramento Mayor Darrell Steinberg in a press conference Friday. ‘Our school districts are trying to answer that question but childcare has emerged as a huge issue because without childcare, our first responders, the other essential employees cannot go to work.’”

With most schools’ physical campuses closed, teachers and administrators are moving to online learning. For many students, real learning did not actually start until the week of March 23. 

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Melbourne High School junior Matthew David Eckert PHOTO CREDIT: Jason Licardo

Many students said they felt the implemented systems were slow and unplanned. “I feel this is taking so long to figure out because the school system never had a backup plan in the event of statewide campus shutdowns and so they were very unprepared for this to happen…and are kinda just figuring this out as they go,” Matthew David Eckert, a junior at Melbourne High School, said.

Many schools had a one-week period during which students had nothing to do because schools were trying to figure out how to conduct classes online. “We are wasting lots of time trying to figure things out,” Lynbrook High School junior Dima Gamolya said.

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Lynbrook High School junior Dima Gamolya PHOTO CREDIT: Dima Gamolya

The Campbell Union School District and the Campbell Union High School District are giving supplemental assignments, and, while schools have been shut down since March 16, teachers “weren’t required to do anything until Monday [March 23],”  Cathryn said. 

At Columbia Middle School, teachers did not start giving out actual classwork (as opposed to supplementary assignments) until Wednesday, March 25. The same situations can be seen all around the nation, according to the students we interviewed. 

Soren Ryan-Jensen, a sophomore at Mission Middle College, agreed. “My test scores are going down due to a loss of class time,” he said.

Junior Lana Porter is homeschooled and attends Pioneer Family Academy. Pioneer Family Academy is a K-12 school in San Jose that homeschooled students attend two days a week. She wrote that she doesn’t “have much motivation to do my homework anymore,” but that she is not “stressing much anymore” either. 

If students are not “intrinsically motivated,” Tahoma AP Calculus and Statistics teacher Douglas Wills said, it is “really difficult” to get them to “try, let alone go seek help.” It certainly does not help that teachers “can’t hunt them down and force them to go to office hours.”

Communication with teachers is sometimes another problem. “Most of the teachers can be reached by email,” Eckert said. “But some of them only ever check during school hours so I’m not sure just how reliable doing that will be.”

Pioneer Family Academy junior Lana Porter PHOTO CREDIT: Lana Porter

I can email my teacher and that helps some,” Porter said. “But it is hard to talk to them and explain over email without showing them.”

This is not the case for all students. The King’s Academy sophomore Luke Keosaksith said, “Our teachers are very reachable and approachable. They have each stated that they are checking their emails frequently and after class, they leave the video call on for about 30 minutes for anyone who has questions.”

“I just have no way of testing what I know right now and no guidance to learn,” Science Hill High School senior Charles Derrick Bailey IV said. Bailey also takes classes at East Tennessee State University

Summit Denali junior Valerie Velasco PHOTO CREDIT: Valerie Velasco

On the other hand, Denali junior Valerie Velasco said she didn’t think her education was suffering, but that “there are some challenges that are very concerning.” 

“I don’t know what is going to happen with the SAT and AP test,” she said. “Which is very concerning for me because I don’t know what I’m gonna do or what’s going to happen.”

On March 20, College Board announced they would still hold the AP tests, but in a different format. “In response to the rapidly evolving situation around the coronavirus (COVID-19), College Board is canceling the May 2, 2020 SAT and SAT Subject Test administration. Makeup exams for the March 14 administration (scheduled for March 28) are also canceled,” the College Board website stated. “Students who already registered for May, whose March test centers were closed, or who do not receive March scores because of any irregularities will receive refunds.”

There have also been updates on how the AP test will be administered. The general gist of it is that students may now take a 45-minute test at home on electronic devices. The test will cover only the units most teachers would have taught up until March, though any student that wishes to cancel their test may do so without fear of penalties. Supporting colleges have also said they would give credit for this year.

There is, however, the problem of internet connection. Many teachers, schools and organizations now rely on the internet to connect with students, teach classes and administer tests, like the AP exams or regular math tests. Even so, not every student has a device and/or reliable WiFi. 

With the libraries closed and places with free WiFi, such as Starbucks, moving to drive-through and/or deliveries only, students without internet access face challenges in regards to their education. In response, many internet companies have offered free hotspots for the time being. Many schools are also loaning students without devices school equipment to take home while campuses are closed. 

Comcast has offered students two months of free WiFi, if they apply at AT&T, Charter Communications, Verizon as well as many other companies are also offering free internet. Wills said it took approximately fifteen minutes to put in all the information and the internet was available after about two days when he helped a mentee apply. 

“Prior to school closure we sent out a survey to all students and families regarding their access to internet and technology,” Denali Dean of Operations Amrit Chima said. “In addition to our survey and work with students prior to closure, mentors have been checking in with students regarding internet and technology issues.” 

She added that “our admin team is in communication daily about these types of issues and are working hard to make sure students are able to access their education. I’m proud of how quickly Summit was able to get distance learning up and running for our students. And – please remind students to reach out to me if they are having trouble with technology or internet access. I’m here to help!“

Schools and other organizations are also offering free meals to everyone that needs food. Most schools will feed anyone under eighteen, no identification needed. Summit Denali is offering meals for pickup daily at both middle and high school, though at different times. Other Summit schools are also offering pickup meals at their sites from 10 a.m. to 12 p.m., with some exceptions. 

Bailey said his school offered “free lunch and breakfast if you come to the school, free daycare for kids where they will check them for symptoms every day and if they find any test them, free online resources, free computers and wifi.” 

Precautions taken against the COVID-19 outbreak has also led to lifestyle changes and social distancing, both physically and virtually. Social distancing includes keeping at least six feet away from other people and/or social distancing like people don’t see or talk to their friends, family or other acquaintances. 

“It is interesting because of the fact that we have to call each other to actually talk. During classes, we usually communicate through text,” Keosaksith said.

Lifestyles are also changing due to the shelter-at-home order. Before the outbreak, many students had sports and other extracurriculars to keep them busy. Now they can no longer participate in these activities.

“On the last day, on Friday, when they just notified us that we’re going to be shut down, they were already like, huddled together and they were talking and discussing it like it was our last season and our last practice,” Lee said regarding her badminton team. “It felt like our last season. And pretty much, the three weeks is more than half of our games, so it could be our last time together.”

Many families are together all day, every day. In some cases, this was seen as a good thing – Cathryn said her family was spending more time together, which usually is a positive. In contrast, Bailey’s father is a doctor who leaves for work early in the mornings and returns late at night. 

And the future? According to Bailey, there are rumors “that [his] class’s graduation is going to be online if this doesn’t blow over by May.”

“I think disappointments are going to be big,” Cathryn said. “Everybody has to learn to adjust how they can … It may not be the end result that everybody wants, but it will work.”

She added, “I think when we go back in the fall, everyone’s going to be behind.” The students will technically not be ready to move up, but since everyone is moving up, everyone needs to catch up. 

“I think that this will impact my life in a good way,” Porter said. “It is important to experience things that we can’t handle to be involved in the real world, and this is all a good lesson for us.” 

I think that it [learning online] will help kids with disabilities in the future work from home and also give the school the ability to learn for future incidents,” Bailey added. “As for me, I won’t be able to graduate on time if it is closed until after May. My school is closed until May and it means basically all my exams are online and I have to teach myself.”

And the common sentiment? As Cathryn puts it, “I hope this ends soon.”

PHOTO CREDIT: Featured image – Classrooms are empty as schools are shutdown due to COVID-19; Wikimedia

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