‘A plug in the side of the ship’: Students and administrators are trying to make the most of distance learning | TheUnion.com

‘A plug in the side of the ship’: Students and administrators are trying to make the most of distance learning

Jamey Styler, a Bear River High School freshman, doing math homework on his bed at home. Students have been navigating distance learning for over a month. Many are trying to make the best of a rushed situation.
Submitted photo by Sonora Slater

By the numbers

As of April 21

Number of COVID-19 cases in Nevada County: 38

Number in western county: 12

Number in eastern county: 26

Number of deaths: 1

Learn more at http://www.theunion.com/coronavirus

Distance learning may be the current norm for students and administrators, but it’s not considered normal by those partaking in the newly formatted education.

Even as administrators try to ease the strain for students — either by moving to a pass/fail grading system as has happened at the Nevada Joint Union High School District, or by adding 91 hot spots and Chromebooks for students at the Twin Ridges Elementary School District — learning at home still provides challenges.

That namely includes the issue of social isolation, as students now seldom interact with their peers and teachers.

“It’s kind of hard because you don’t to talk to anyone besides those in close range to you,” said Bear River High School sophomore Sara Tate.

Tate also gets distracted by other tasks at home, like having to help her siblings, and do chores around her home. Additionally, while teachers are available to help her with school work, she has to rely much more on her own abilities, digesting content alone and then completing homework.

“(In class), usually I can raise my hand and I’m around people that can help me, so I have a number of different outlets,” she said.

Having to focus on school work at home — a space in which many are accustomed to relaxing — is also a challenge for Nevada Union High School junior Kyle Barb. In order to ease the learning process, Barb calls his friends and goes on walks with them to allow for some normalcy.

The current system of learning is far from perfect, said Nevada Joint Union High School Superintendent Brett McFadden.

“Distance learning is a plug in the side of a ship that has a huge hole in it,” he said, adding, “We shotgunned this within a week.”

School administrators are tasked with developing curriculum, attaching standards to that material and then gauging student and teacher progress — none of which was possible to prepare for before a global pandemic upended school systems in a matter of weeks, said McFadden. And while no one is particularly excited at having found themselves in the current situation, the superintendent believes the district is making the best of something bad.

“We’re doing really well in (bad) conditions,” said McFadden.


Some students have very much embraced the challenge of distance learning, as they are collaborating with peers to submit quality work, said Ghidotti Early College High School English teacher Janet Mason. Last week, the English teacher received work from her students for the first time during the distance learning experiment, and she was impressed with the results.

“It’s great, I have to say I’m so proud of my students,” said Mason. “I’m very excited that they’ve bought in and they want to continue learning.”

The English teacher is using Schoology to assign tests and Google Meet in order to hold virtual teaching lessons. She’s even having her students enact parts of a Shakespearean play via Zoom. The experience, she said, is better than she anticipated.

“They are just doing such a great job,” said Mason. “They’ve got the qualities you really want in students.”

While the transition to distance learning was tricky at first for Bear River senior Sonora Slater, she’s been able to gradually ease herself into a routine. After a few weeks of waking up around noon, she said she’s now begun waking around 7:30 a.m., doing school work in a more timely manner and taking dance classes via Zoom. As a senior with plans to study managerial economics next school year at University of California Davis, Slater has used the extra time allotted to research the school, and navigate things like housing, dining options and finding a future roommate.

The hardest thing for her and her fellow seniors is the same as it is for sophomore Sara Tate: not being able to regularly see others.

“I think Bear River kids like each other so much,” she said. “In general, the community is so great, kids are just missing seeing each other.”

To contact Staff Writer Sam Corey email scorey@theunion.com or call 530-477-4219.

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