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‘Should I jump into a career?’ Many questions remain for students, teachers and administrators as the future draws nearer

Sam Corey
Staff Writer

By the numbers

As of June 3

Number of COVID-19 cases: 48

Number tested: 3,346

Number in western county: 12

Number in eastern county: 36

Number of active cases: 6

Number of recoveries: 41

Number of deaths: 1

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

During one of the unpredictable days that was distance learning, Deer Creek Elementary School third-grade teacher Carolynne Zelhart had a migraine.

But instead of taking the day off as she’d planned, she decided to engage her students after seeing them chat on an online platform that morning about how excited they were for their day of virtual learning. That particular day she wore sunglasses to ease the glare that worsened her throbbing head, and, to include her students, asked them to put on a pair as well.

Teachers and administrators across the county have had to work on the fly, conducting virtual and distance learning with very little time to prepare. For Zelhart, who said she was able to get about 16 to 19 students (out of 23) to regularly show up to her virtual classes, her “migraine day” was an example of just that: rolling with the punches, trying to make the best of uncertain and challenging times.

While Zelhart said there was “no way to duplicate the magic that happens in the classroom” online, she, like many other teachers and students, navigated an unprecedented end to the school year, where more responsibility for independent learning was placed on parents and students due to the global pandemic.

This mode of learning should not be considered distance learning, according to Nevada Joint Union High School District Board President Jamie Reeves. Instead, it’s “emergency remote teaching.” Distance learning via online programming, she explained, takes three to nine months to prepare with appropriate funding to accompany it.

“(Instead), our teachers received exactly zero hours of professional development for online teaching over the last five to 10 years,” she said, adding that, considering the circumstances, things turned out well.

“We asked students to take control of their education, and they did; they did the best they could.”


Distance learning was accompanied by a pass/no pass grading system for many students to ensure equity, generally allowing young people more opportunities to take education into their own hands — for better or worse.

Marley Porter, a rising senior at Nevada Union High School, said that while she “kind of got shorted” due to the modified school year, and that many teachers were not prepared for the change, she felt the pass/no pass grading system was important.

“I think pass/fail is better for everyone as a whole,” said Porter. “I think it was a good compromise for everybody.”

Kendall Vanderwouw, a sophomore at Ghidotti Early College High School, has been doing homework from her mother’s physical therapy center because she said she lives “far into the woods.” Vanderwouw has tried to meet the moment head on, taking more credits and summer classes that will allow her to move straight into her senior year. While she said she’s a little nervous considering the changed grading scale, Vanderwouw hopes the pass/no pass system will give universities an opportunity to consider the whole student.

“It’s just been really crazy, but there are always benefits even if situations get really hard, you just need to look at the bright side,” she said.

While some students, particularly higher achievers, were disgruntled about the changed grading policy, Nevada Joint Union High School District Superintendent Brett McFadden said he did not know of any students who were adversely affected by the change. Since colleges and universities switched to a pass/fail grading system, and University of California schools are not requiring ACT and SAT tests, higher education institutions are taking a more comprehensive look at students.

“We worked with numerous institutions across the country and all of them are putting into consideration the fact that we were under a crisis,” said McFadden.

The change is actually a good thing for universities and students, said McFadden, as the ACT and SAT have proven to be racially biased in favor of white students and excludes a broader look at how students perform academically and socially.

While the changed system did not make everyone happy, said Reeves, ultimately, the community comes first, not the individual.

“That’s what public education is,” she said. “We’re serving the many, not the few.”


While much is up in the air for the fall — contingent upon how the coronavirus spreads and how state and federal actors distribute money to schools — administrators anticipate moving to a hybrid system of distance and in-person learning with staggered scheduling to include less people in the classroom at one time.

The county health department still does not know what school will look like in the fall, as it is awaiting directives from the state health department. Still, local public health director Jill Blake said that without a vaccine, physical distancing will likely occur.

“We’ll first wait to see what (California Department of Public Health) and others recommend in terms of non-pharmaceutical interventions and personal protective equipment, and then work with our local school partners and consider local conditions to determine if additional local guidance is necessary/helpful,” Blake said in an email.

Survey data was recently collected by many school districts to better understand how parents are feeling about the end of the year as well as their thoughts for next year. Of the 319 Nevada City School District parents that responded to its survey, 82% had picked up work packets and 56% reported having “excellent internet.” Eighteen comments were made in hopes of having more direct virtual lessons next year, and nine comments vocalized frustration and dissatisfaction with the likely hybrid model.

“Distance learning is not even close to a substitute for being in the classroom,” one anonymous comment read. “I hope this ‘not five days a week’ idea is a joke.” That comment aside, a total 77% of responders said they could handle a modified school schedule.

Most Chicago Park School District survey responders said students were engaging with distance learning at a “3” level on a scale from 1-5. About 47% of responders said they have limited internet service or worse.

Penn Valley’s school district surveys saw a range of responses, according to Superintendent Torie Gibson, as many parents are more resistant to people wearing masks next year if they are required. About 57% of families said they will send their students to school on a modified schedule with 40% remaining unsure, Gibson wrote in an email.

Regardless of the learning system, most administrators anticipate greater gaps in achievement between students after three months of distance learning.

“Our kids will be all over the place,” said Deer Creek Principal Karen Mix. “We’ll have to assess them.”

For rising seniors, looking to next school year and beyond, many are questioning whether to postpone college and move straight into a career.

Maggie Aguilar-Diaz, a rising senior at Ghidotti and student board member of the Nevada Joint Union High School District, said, considering the economic and social upheaval, it may not make sense for students interested in business, like herself, to take the chance on a university.

A lot of students, she said, are wondering: “‘Should I just jump into a career rather than attend a college?’”


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Coronavirus Guidance for Businesses/Employers

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

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