The New Normal: School During A Pandemic

Sophomore+Paula+Chavez+finishes+her+ONRAMPS+Algebra+2+class+during+week+one+of+distance+learning.

Courtesy of Paula Chavez

Sophomore Paula Chavez finishes her ONRAMPS Algebra 2 class during week one of distance learning.

Olivia Gouveia and Hannah Brock

Schools across the country have had to adapt to the COVID-19 protocols as the new school year began. El Paso Independent School District was granted a waiver to extend remote learning until Jan. 31, 2021 due to the high number of cases in the region.

The El Paso High School, faculty and students have had to be flexible with the drastic changes made to their educational experience. Switching out classrooms to Zoom or other virtual platforms has had both pros and cons during the first week back to school.

“All the teachers are doing the best we can. I think all the students are doing the best they can,”  English teacher, Ms. Emily DeSantis said. “I mean we’re in the midst of a pandemic so I think based on that, that it’s been pretty smooth. All things considered.”

Students are also having to learn how to navigate through virtual school which has required plenty of cooperation and patience from students, teachers, and parents as they adapt.

“Most of my teachers, I can even say all of them, have been very energetic and very welcoming,” sophomore, Paula Chavez said. “Even though we’re not in a class, I can feel I have a small connection with all of them.”

Senior, Ian Perez said that the biggest adjustment he’s had to make is not being able to see his friends or teachers every day at school and balancing the extra work assigned. He prefers school in person where he is able to talk to his friends throughout the day.

“We don’t get to talk to our friends because the teachers take up all the class time allotted. They rarely use breakout rooms where we can communicate with each other,” Ian said. “They also assign more work. We’re still in school the whole time and still have extra work to do after class.”

Dining tables have now become classrooms for many as is the case for math teacher, Mr. Nick Falk, who shared this photo of his work station. (Courtesy of math teacher, Nick Falk.)

Students are not the only ones who are struggling with not being able to learn face-to-face. Algebra 2 teacher, Mr. Nick Falk, said that he has to try harder to connect with his students through virtual classes than in a classroom.

“The hardest thing for me is just trying to connect with you guys through a screen. It’s super easy for me to connect with students when we’re in person,” Mr.Falk said. “I have to have way more energy to keep it going, versus in person where I can feed off of what you guys do.”

With students having less interaction time with their teachers, they have had to take on teaching a lot of the course work by themselves.

“A big change has been learning for myself and just making sure I’m keeping up with my assignments and watching videos to make sure I understand,” junior, Avery Westbrook said. “Since we’re not in school so we can’t always be asking teachers questions.”

Some good has come out of not starting off with a traditional school year. Many have found extra time throughout the day to do other activities.

“While the students are working, I can be grading or working on lesson plans, and then checking back in with them,” Ms. DeSantis said. “I’ve been working out at home during lunch because I have the time to do that. Whereas, if I were at school obviously I couldn’t.”

One big change made to the schedule is that on Wednesdays students meet with every teacher. This is the day where students can catch up on any assignments and meet with teachers for tutoring hours.

“On Wednesdays, since it’s all the classes, I have more time to do a lot of homework then,” Avery said. “I think having more time to do assignments is nice because in between classes there are longer breaks.”

While students and faculty have mixed emotions about starting online, a common theme seems to be trouble with Schoology or their internet crashing. Some households have multiple people working on the internet at once which can cause issues.

“My Internet doesn’t work at times because we have five people in the house, and then everything goes down,” Ian said.

For incoming freshmen, starting high school is a big step in their education. Freshmen Leia DeLuna explains that she did not picture her first day of high school on a Zoom call.

“I wish I got that first day of high school experience on campus,” Leia said. “Just to see everybody and see how big the school is inside. So, it kind of sucks.”

For seniors, this is the year of many lasts. Ian said that he hopes he will still be able to experience the senior year traditions, even though they started the school year online.

“The whole point is to be there at the end of our senior year,” Ian said. “The beginning I’m okay with missing as long as we get to experience all of our traditions and activities and the end of the year.”

Active COVID-19 cases increased in October, before that some teachers and students were ready to get back into the classroom.

“My hope is that we can get back to school soon,” Mr.Falk said. “I hope that everybody is washing their hands and wearing masks and doing everything that the guidelines are telling us so that we can get back and get back to our normal, everyday things.”