High school student Keetra Bippus’ senior year looks a lot different than she anticipated.
She’s spending her last months of secondary education attending Flagstaff Arts & Leadership Academy in Arizona remotely from her kitchen. Compared to in-person learning, Bippus says online school lends fewer opportunities for hands-on learning and moves at a slower pace.
“But I do think that my schools adapted really well to the online learning environment and making sure it's not too stressful,” she says, “and that we're able to spend time away from the screen, even though we have to be on Zoom for all our classes.”
Bippus and her class log on to Zoom for their lesson and leave the call when it ends, so she’s not able to interact with her teacher or her classmates as much.
She keeps up with her close friends who she would spend lunch and breaks between classes talking to through a text group chat. But she says she doesn’t have time to catch up with other people outside the group.
When her school first went online in March, her classes were an hour and 20 minutes long — which made it hard to concentrate even for her favorite subject, English. Now, she can more easily focus during 40-minute classes.
“I find it a lot harder to stay focused to do my homework. It feels kind of like I'm just like in class constantly,” she says. “So it's a lot harder for me to focus on that.”
One tough adjustment for Bippus is hearing her younger sister participating in class and people doing household chores like washing dishes. Her family does a good job of staying quiet, she says, but distractions can make it hard to focus on tasks such as quizzes.
Since it’s her senior year, Bippus spends much of her time working on college and scholarship applications. In-person meetings with college counselors have been replaced with long email chains, she says.
The ability to set a remote appointment with school administration would make remote learning a little easier for her, she says.
“Now I kind of have to send a ton of emails to my counselors,” she says, “and it just takes a bit longer to get the answers that I need.”
Bippus says she misses hanging out with friends downtown and lake diving three times a week, as she did before the pandemic.
On the other side of the country at Buffalo Academy of Science Charter School in New York, 6th grader Rebekah Gonyou says she loses some learning time to issues such as signing on to Zoom. She gets a five- to 10-minute break between classes for stretching and getting a snack before logging on to Zoom again.
“It's hard to stay focused,” Gonyou says, “but so far I've managed to not walk away from the screen or do that kind of thing.”
With her mom working at a nearby school serving lunches and dad in his office upstairs, Gonyou’s main distraction is her 7th-grade brother who sometimes shouts at his screen during school. She doesn’t yell at the screen, however, since her muted microphone would prevent her classmates from hearing her.
To stay connected with her friends, Gonyou adds them on Google Hangouts so they can talk whenever they want to. But she doesn’t keep up with everyone in her class this way.
A big fan of art, music and English, Gonyou says a bigger break between her four 50-minute classes would improve her remote learning experience. With such a short break, she doesn’t have time to eat lunch until after her school day ends.
“What would make it better for me is if we had like a longer period of time than 10 minutes,” she says, “so I'm not hungry throughout the whole period.”
Outside of the virtual classroom, Gonyou misses gathering for campfires or birthday parties with her family, especially since they’re a mere two blocks away — even during the remote school day.
This segment aired on September 16, 2020.