Picture having to go through school, but instead of taking classes in person, you’re watching them happen through a tiny window. Now imagine having to make your way through high school doing this day after day. Imagine how difficult it must be to maintain attention and keep up on work should that window break. That was — and maybe still is — the life of the high school student navigating virtual learning during the coronavirus pandemic.
There is little doubt for students that education has undergone some significant changes over the past year and a half. But does the rest of the world truly understand that? Students had to adapt to a world where they could not be close together, engage in hands-on learning and or learn through traditional teaching methods. It is not surprising that the change to a relatively new system with all online classes would be a rough one.
During what I would call “peak lockdown,” from late March 2020 to the following March, my senior year was almost entirely online. That was not the case for everyone across the country. Some schools in certain states and counties, such as those in the South, had school in person almost the entire year. Others went online partway into the year and some, such as in New Mexico, came back in person for the final two or three months of the school year.
With a majority of the year online, I definitely got the sense that what we were being taught was much more abbreviated than what it should have been. Hurdles were lower, each class’s instructional time was less than it should have been. Schools across the country went from having classes five days a week to four days a week. Many final exams were changed because of the online environment. Student attitude and attendance toward class were apathetic, as would be expected. Almost everyone had their cameras off and was doing who knows what at home instead of paying attention.
But we didn’t really have to worry all that much about applying and getting into college. At least, that was the attitude. We had already applied to colleges. The applications were largely using grades from junior year, which for the exception of the last quarter was completely unaffected by the pandemic. Colleges were very accommodating to our situation, and most major schools were test-optional. We just had to sit tight and finish our senior year.
But future graduating classes may not be so lucky. My concern is that, as the pandemic continues, students have become more accustomed and adapted to a reality that is largely temporary. As we transition back to in-person learning, back to the conventional system of greater expectations and normal schedules, we need to be really careful that nothing is left behind. During the pandemic, we had two graduating classes, the class of 2020 and 2021, that definitely missed out, to some extent, on senior year. Sitting in front of a computer screen for a year was hard and learning suffered, but we made it through and moved into college relatively easily.
Seniors apply to college with their junior-year grades and reputation. Colleges don’t know what a student is like at the end of their high school experience because typically applications come in mid-first semester. For students who spent the most critical time of their high school careers online, that is a problem. I have no doubt that if the class of 2021 had a hard time, the class of 2022 has it the same.
For this year, accommodations for seniors — should there be any — need to take into account the issues that came with online learning. Different counties went back to school in person at different times.
Some students might have had more overall instruction hours from others. Extend any 2021 accommodations to 2022 or do even more, because they have a worse situation. Everyone got a different standard of education last year, and it would be unreasonable to use that as a factor of evaluation for future success.