What these Shasta County students, teachers are saying about distance learning

Nada Atieh Redding Record SearchlightPublished 9:00 PM EDT Sep 23, 2020On Monday, Wednesday and Friday, 17-yea

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On Monday, Wednesday and Friday, 17-year-old Justin and 16-year-old Jason Butcher, junior and senior at Enterprise High School, wake up at 8 a.m. to get ready to go to school in their living room. 

Enterprise High, part of the Shasta Union High School District, has a hybrid learning model where students go to school two days a week and learn from home on the remaining school days.

While in the court of public opinion, the hybrid model is not the most popular option, it forces students to take charge of their education in a way that they haven't in the past, administrators said. 

And although some students struggle with faulty internet connection or a lack of workspace at home, teachers are working around the clock to supply students with resources they need to assist their learning, like paper documents, alternative links, and in-class appointments.

The district provides hotspots to students but they don't work in all areas in Shasta County, Leo Perez, principal at Shasta High School, said. So the district also gives students the option to work out of their school library or see teachers through their office hours. 

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On the three days students spend remote learning, Jason and Justin were not aware that they have the option to receive a hotspot and say their faulty internet connection creates a barrier to learning. 

For starters, the brothers can’t access Google Meets, where teachers explain new material to the class online. When they can get on Google Meets with the rest of their class, Jason gets overwhelmed because people speak over one another, making it hard to hear what's actually said. 

Sometimes, the internet connection makes it impossible to watch videos teachers send to the class as well. Despite having a full load of classes, both brothers say they feel like they aren’t learning. 

At Shasta High, 14-year-old Aria Del-Rosario, a ninth-grade student, prepares for distance learning two days out of the week. For every class, she has 40 minutes to an hour of online work and homework to follow. Learning from home is a little more time consuming, she said.

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“You have to have more will power to stay on task and not get distracted from the things that are around you in your own home,” Del-Rosario added. “It gets a little hard for me but so far it’s been good. It’s mostly just going back and forth from being online to all in person."

Teachers have been very accommodating and seem to be doing their best for students, Del-Rosario said. Her teachers extend assignment deadlines when they know she’s having internet connectivity problems.

The Butcher brothers agreed. At Enterprise, teachers send extra links to explain new material off Google Meets if they know a student is struggling with connection issues. They teach classes at a slower pace and assign less questions per minute when taking tests. And distance learning has gotten easier and improved from what it was at the end of last year, Justin added.

“It’s just very foggy. You don’t know what to think. There’s a lot of stuff going on to where you don’t really know what to do,” he said. 

Why students need to be 'ultra-responsible' learning from home

The hybrid learning model is the most labor-intensive learning model, Sean Ferguson, Spanish teacher at Shasta High School, said. Teachers are trying to deliver five-days-worth of curriculum in two and a half days each week while following new state requirements to measure student engagement online.

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One layer of requirements is taking attendance while teaching the distance learning model. Attendance isn’t based on presence but engagement, Ferguson said. Every day, Ferguson measures at-home engagement by assigning a project or assignment to finish by a deadline. At the end of the week, he has to log how he engaged each of his 143 students in their 40-minute class. 

“The distance part isn’t the hard part. It’s the tracking of everything the state wants us to do that is taking time away from the lesson planning. We have to track attendance and the amount of minutes and work being done and it’s a terrible burden to have to take care of everyday,” said Michelle Harrington, eighth-grade teacher at Shasta Lake's Gateway Community Day School.

With this model, students need to be ultra-responsible, Ferguson added. Students struggle the most if they treat distance learning like what it was in the spring, thinking they're off on the days that they’re home. 

“Teachers are grading more and giving more assignments than they normally would so students who aren’t completing the work at home are getting behind sooner,” he added. “It’s almost like a normal school year. Kids show up from summer and take longer to get in the groove again.”

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Nada Atieh is a Report For America corps member and education reporter focusing on childhood trauma and the achievement gap for the Redding Record Searchlight. Follow her on Twitter at @nadatieh_RS. Help local journalism thrive by subscribing today!

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