Photo Courtesy of Annie Spratt Students began distance learning for the first semester on Aug. 12. Many have to adapt to the different learning environment by using online tools like Google Classroom to stay connected.

New school year begins with distance learning, welcomes back students

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With Superintendent Denise R. Jaramillo declaring that the district will utilize distance learning for the beginning of the school year as a result of Los Angeles County being on the watchlist for COVID-19 in California, students and teachers begin to adjust to new changes in learning. Many see that distance learning is beneficial as it ensures safety amongst the school population, while others are facing various difficulties in the transition from in-person learning to remote learning.

Unlike the 2019-20 distance learning expectations, there are new guidelines which include assignments being graded and monitored on a weekly basis, daily interaction between students and teachers, and mandatory attendance in all classes. However, due to district regulations, teachers are not allowed to mandate students to turn on their cameras. Spanish teacher Melissa Rodriguez said that, with this policy, it is difficult for her to build connections with her students. 

 “I personally think having cameras on should be mandatory because it will help with building relationships,” Rodriguez said. “Building relationships with students, especially during the first month of school, is very important.”

Other teachers, including math teacher Hoang Nong, said that the district is handling the situation to the best of their abilities through supporting teachers and students. Math teacher Amanda Blackwood said that she was relieved that the district implemented distance learning for the safety of the students and teachers, though she struggles to transition into new teaching methods. 

“Every teacher that has been teaching for at least a little while has a few tricks up their sleeve to help make things go a bit easier, but that is in the classroom,” Blackwood said. “Teaching via the computer is a whole other ball game.” 

Students have also begun accommodating their schedules to the new changes. Sophomore Audrey Tran said that she enjoys being able to study and learn in a comfortable setting, but she finds it difficult to convert to distance learning as teachers can only do so much through a screen. Tran also said that building new relationships with her peers has now become troublesome.

“I was able to make friends all the time in my classes last year, but now this year it is all online and it is harder to make friends when they are just a name on the screen,” Tran said. “I try to keep my camera on and to talk more when teachers put me and my classmates in breakout rooms.” 

In addition, certain clubs are moving towards having meetings through Zoom or Discord, while others have not decided how to meet up as of now. Various sports games are to be delayed until 2021. However, games and practices will be under strict regulations for safety. Athletes are required to wear masks, and there are stricter occupancy limitations during games. Events for band and dance teams, such as Choreo, are undetermined at the moment, but practices now occur through Zoom. Junior and first-year Choreo member Layla Davis practices and exercises with her team through Zoom, but there have been difficulties with practicing through video calling.

“Sometimes the camera would freeze or our internet [would stop] working and people would get kicked out,” Davis said. “It did get a little difficult at times cause the camera is inverted, so you just have to remember to [use] the opposite leg and arm of the person teaching.”

Many school events, such as the Homecoming Rally and Homecoming Dance, are canceled due to distance learning. This has upset many seniors, who said that they cannot spend their last year of high school experiencing such events before graduation. Future events such as Prom or Grad Night are still undetermined until the state releases the safety guidelines for such events. Senior Kevin Almontes said that he was looking forward to enjoying what was left of his high school experience with his friends before he graduated. 

 “I wanted to take advantage of every opportunity,” Almontes said. “I was kind of disappointed when I learned that school would remain closed, but it’s also kind of a blessing because I get to focus more on improving myself.”

As the school year progresses, there will be more updates regarding distance learning. Principal Debbie Stone said that the Los Angeles County Department of Health will direct what AUSD will do for the second semester.  

“I know that our teachers and students are doing the best that they can in these circumstances,” Stone said. “We will work through the pandemic together, and when we are back together on campus, we will celebrate all of our accomplishments and be stronger from this experience.”

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