The value of virtual school

When COVID-19 cut the 2019-20 in-person school year short, administrators and teachers were presented with the unique challenge of continuing to educate students without jeopardizing their health. The temporary solution to the problem: asynchronous work via online programs. The move to the virtual classroom would benefit students by providing more opportunities to catch up on work as well as an escape from the social pressures of in-person school.

Break Down: A timeline of the changes to the CCSD instructional platforms. Dr. Cindi Lowe, Cedar Shoals Associate Principal for Operations, believes that staff and students have adjusted well to the changes over the past year. “Students have had to learn things on the fly about how to do online learning, and teachers had to learn remarkably fast how to offer online learning and perfect all the different platforms, and programs,” Lowe said. Graphic by Marcus Welch.

As Cedar Shoals returned to in-person instruction this August, many of the students and faculty were eager to be back to teaching and learning face to face. Multicultural literature teacher Brittany Moore is grateful to be teaching in person again.

“I think everyone’s happy to be back here with other people and with their friends. Academically, I see just kind of a mix. There are some students who are able to get a lot of work done at home when they’re away from distractions,” Moore said. 

With the number of positive COVID-19 cases in Clarke County School District surpassing a total of 538 in the last 30 days as of September 9, the safety of students is not the only consideration guiding people back towards virtual learning. For some students, the time spent at home learning virtually was both academically and socially beneficial.

Junior Kaylynn Hitchcock says her overall efficiency and productivity increased while learning from home.

“I was able to learn on my own time while still getting things done within my home,” Hitchcock said. “For instance, I missed a day last week, and for my math class, it was like I missed two full days of math. Now I have to catch up and it’s stressing me out. I feel like being in school (in-person) is not benefiting me the way it would if I was at home.”

Junior Ramyia Adams has different expectations for the return to school in-person instruction.

“I feel like my grades will go up and that I’ll be more responsible,” Adams said. 

While learning virtually was enjoyable for some students, it had mixed results academically. A study conducted by The Brookings Institution comparing academic performance from 2020 to years prior to the pandemic found that in a pool of over four million students (many who were learning virtually), grades were lower by a range of 5-10 percent, with the lowest grades being in math classes. The study does not solely accredit the virtual learning platform to the performance decrease. Instead, the study claims that a combination of environmental factors which were reinforced by the pandemic may be at fault.

“When we came back to school last year, I improved a lot in person, but when we were learning virtually, it was a struggle,” Adams said. 

Academic performance and access to proper education are long-time priorities of CCSD. However, there were some readjustments that needed to be made to accommodate students’ social-emotional needs during the pandemic. One prominent change is the addition of a new mental health counselor at Cedar Shoals who is trained to help students cope with the side effects of the pandemic.

In a time filled with confusion and grief, virtual learning provided an escape from the usual social pressures students faced prior to the pandemic for some students.

“It was cool because I could just hang out by myself and do whatever I wanted to during the day and I wasn’t forced into social situations. I could pick and choose the social situations that I wanted to be involved in. At school, you’re kind of forced to be with people. A lot of people are unhappy at school because they don’t get along with people they’re with,” Adam Fischer said.

Marcus Welch

Junior Marcus Welch is a new staff writer for BluePrints Magazine. After high school, Welch plans to study social science. Outside of school, he enjoys playing the trumpet, which he also plays for the Cedar Shoals Classic City Sound. Welch hopes to become a stronger writer and improve his conversation skills through interviews. He enjoys the independence and creative aspect of being a member on the staff.