New Paltz High School Reflects on Remote Learning Amid the COVID-19 Pandemic

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By Aidan Sheedy, Staff Writer

It has been 8 months since a student has set foot in New Paltz High School. Throughout the struggles of the Covid-19 pandemic, high school students have relied on self-motivation during online learning. However, students are not the only ones adapting to the new school year. Teachers are also finding it difficult to spontaneously change their approach so that their lessons are feasible while remote. 

“I feel like a first-year teacher,” says 30-year veteran chemistry teacher and student government advisor Stephannie Costello. “There is a disconnect between teachers and students. A student will never see me, and I’ll never see them, yet they can still do well in my class.”

The New Paltz Central School District has adopted Google Meet, a video communication service first developed by Google in 2017. The app allows students to mute and/or shut off their cameras while still present in the chat. Costello has become concerned about this habit because she is “scared that our interpersonal connections will change.”

Long time English teacher, Joe Dolan, feels similarly with Costello that there is a void between teachers and their students this school year. “I’m finding more and more that you have to spend time with students individually,” he says. “You only have 40 minutes in a class online, so you’re not building the relationships as quickly as you would in a normal school year.” In addition to interpersonal relationships, teachers are also finding it more challenging to balance their work and personal life. 

“It has become arduous,” Dolan says. “I’m still figuring it out.” This school has brought an even more massive demand for teachers than ever before. Many teachers have been saying that they work on weekdays from dawn to dusk. Stephannie Costello says, “I’m a doctor always on call. I’m grading everything 2-3 times a day, answering questions, and giving lessons the entire day without a break.”

While it’s evident that remote learning has made an already stressful job even more stressful, students at New Paltz High School have similar feelings. “The most changed aspect this year is peer-to-peer relationships,” says 4-year student government representative and Senior Class President Hope Nitza. “Students have no idea who they are in a class with anymore, and it’s extremely frustrating.” With students not being able to interact personally, the school’s shared sense of belonging has diminished. Nitza says, “even freshmen have not had a sense of community. This is going to take a big hit for sure.”

Amidst the Covid-19 shut down, schools are having a hard time involving the students without the aid of clubs and sports. “There’s no way to get involved,” Nitza says, “everything involved in a college application is missing.”

Hope Nitza is not the only one who realizes the critical role of extracurriculars. In fact, many students believe that extracurricular activities hold more purpose and substance than traditional classes. Luckily, New Paltz High School Principal, Dr. Mario Fernández, says, “If I can help it, I am not going to allow us to lose any of our classes that a lot of young people use to explore and empower themselves.”

Looking for a sense of normality, students should feel excited about going back to school– even the students that used to say they hate it. The dubbed “hybrid learning” plan has been set in motion. As of press time, students in the New Paltz Central School District will be returning to a structured in-person classroom starting Thursday, November 12. 

“There’s something electric when people come together,” Fernández says. Ideally, Dr. Fernández is looking to acquire new technology to allow students staying remote and the students in hybrid to collaborate and interact with each other during a live class. “If I get my way,” he says, “We’re looking at new technology like Logistics and Zoom Now that will bring the remote students into the classroom.”

In terms of concerns for a hybrid system, Dr. Fernández has his priorities in students’ screen time. “We are going back to school,” he says, “but the reality is that you will have homework that requires you to be on the computer anyway.”

It has become a more common theme among high school students that they can’t find as much time for the lighter things in life due to a combination of workload and strictly being on a computer. As Dr. Fernández notices this in conversations with students, he has realized, “you do your work, but you gotta be able to play too. I don’t want to take away your playtime.”

As peculiar and dark the world has been, Joe Dolan has come around to see the optimistic side of things. He says, “I think that we’re going to come out of this, reflect on it, and find out what worked and what didn’t.” In a world where elementary school students have to be responsible for their own education and teachers are working around the clock every day, there is hope that progress is possible.

Featured Photo: Wikipedia