New Distance Learning schedule will mistakenly cause students anxiety

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Photo by Drew Jurek

Calculus teacher Mrs. Nord’s Classroom lays empty at the end of Nov. 9, the last day school will be in session for students in Group A. The school will still be open to teachers and students who are involved in extracirriculars.

As of Thursday, Nov. 5th the School Board announced that Stillwater Area High School and both Middle Schools will move to a completely distance learning model with the commencement of classes on Nov. 16th. This change will be accompanied by a new schedule that, while thoughtful, will prove incredibly disruptive to students’ lives.

As reported by Washington County, the number of cases of COVID-19 have reached over 375 cases daily in the past month, a trend that has been followed by most of the state. An emergency meeting of the school board that was initially planned for Oct 29th but delayed until Nov. 5th where they made the decision to move to online learning in the hopes of limiting the spread of COVID-19. In preparation for the meeting, the school released a new schedule that features office hours in the morning before classes, three classes taking up 80 minutes each with short breaks in between will take from 9 a.m. to 2:10 p.m.

“There are two keys with the distance learning schedule,” assistant principal Matt Kraft said. “Have a synchronous schedule that allows teachers and students to gather online as a class or in small groups at a specific time during the day while still keeping some flexibility in learning and moving the 1st period start time back to allow for best practice teenage sleep patterns.

Late start times have long been a subject of controversy; in the past, studies have shown teenagers generally need more sleep than any other demographic. The argument goes that students should have more time in the morning to sleep in and get the sleep they need. It’s a sound argument, and most of the changes are meant to accommodate students’ possible sleep schedules. But why would the district make the change with a transition to a distance learning model that is already expected to be chaotic?

With online learning, our homes have now turned into classrooms and our offices which skew the boundaries at times.”

— Jen Agen

Other problems arise, for example, the new schedule will cause a great disruption to students personal lives. Students have organized most of their personal life around the current schedule and a later release times would mean that students will have to reschedule extracurricular obligations like volunteer work or a job. By only providing a notice less than a week before an expected decision, students were thrown into a situation they weren’t prepared for.

Jen Agen, a mother of children at both the High School and Stillwater Middle School, said she felt that the communication between parents, students and administration could be better. While she had read Newsletters and other communications she felt they were “confusing” and didn’t explain things thoroughly enough.

The schedule will also require students to attend 80 minute classes, creating more difficulties as students attempt to try to deal with personal circumstances in order to make it to classes. This will mean that students will not have the flexibility that administration so hoped.

To accommodate these changes, the schedule also features the moving of office hours, which generally began at the end of the day, to the beginning of the day before lessons. This means that students would have to go a whole day between first learning about a subject and getting help on content that they do not understand. This will ultimately mean that students will be forced to work harder than they did last spring, which was already a large workload.

With online learning, our homes have now turned into classrooms and our offices which skew the boundaries at times,” Agen said. She further equated last years online learning to parents having so many work emails that they never get that much needed break.

Preparing to change the learning style of three schools is difficult. It was a kind gesture to try to offer concessions to students in the hopes of making this transition easier for them, as these changes were designed to do; however, intent does not always lead to the best results. In order to avoid such a situation in the future we should try to improve communication between the various sections of our school community, and for now try to make Distance Learning the best experience it can be.

We are all in this together,” Kraft said. “Since nothing like this has ever been planned for and executed, we simply ask all stakeholders to be slow to anger and quick to problem solve any issues that may arise with distance learning.”