Since March 2020, attending school in New York City has looked very different than the traditional in-person learning model which had been in place for generations.
With the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic continuing — and new variants like Omicron and Delta springing up — online or blended education seems to be a more regular fixture than educators and students may have initially anticipated.
“When they first told us school was going online, it was right before spring break,” said Bushwick Leaders high school senior, Peter Chung, 17. “It seemed like it was only going to be like a couple weeks on the computer and then we’d get to come back. Obviously that didn’t really happen.”
Many students like Chung initially thought the pandemic would quickly become a non-issue and that normal life would continue. NYU sophomore Avena Gonzales was extremely upset that her break was punctuated by a hasty move-out from the dorms, without a chance to say goodbye to her friends and classmates.
“It was so sad just seeing 20 faces on a screen after my semester before that was full of these amazing in-person class discussions and conversations,” said Gonzales. “It was hard to get back to feeling comfortable enough to speak about subjects we would rant about in the classroom, but now I think I’m there again”.
Notwithstanding the obvious issues online and virtual learning can bring up in households — such as technological accessibility, safety while learning, or parent or guardian presence — one big question in regards to going online was whether or not it would be successful. Would students actually be able to learn and retain information? Would they enjoy learning as they did before?
“It was actually surprising for me how quickly I adapted to this style of teaching and learning,” said another Bushwick Leaders student, Anja Westoop. She said the first semester of fully online learning was difficult at first, with teachers themselves still learning the interfaces of Zoom or other platforms. But after a while, Westoop and her fellow classmates began to feel more confident with the method. “I actually scored the best I ever did on a really big midterm when we were still fully online, and some of me and my friends have noticed that our grades are much better than they were before the pandemic.”
While certain distractions in the classroom may have been eliminated, those same distractions are missed by students who argue that school isn’t simply about the curriculum, but the environment as well.
“I really missed being with all my friends and having this routine of class and then lunch and sitting together and just messing around,” said Chung. “I feel like that was a huge reason I was so upset about online school at first, because I only have really young siblings and I wanted to be around kids my age and be with my friends again. But obviously that wasn’t safe.”
However, for some students the distractions at school paled in comparison to the ones at home.
For high school senior Deven Chevannes, online school seemed an impossibility.
“My mom works from home too now, and also has to watch my younger brother who is in the second grade and make sure he’s paying attention and doing his school work too,” Chevannes said. “Sometimes I have to step in and make sure he’s doing right and then it gets really loud when he’s tired and wants to stop sitting still and I’m not supposed to turn my camera off during my class but sometimes I have to”.
Earlier this year, many students were relieved when Mayor Bill de Blasio announced that students would be set to return to in-person learning.
“Now my mom doesn’t have to babysit and work at the same time and I can actually hear what my teacher is saying,” said Chevannes.
However, for some students, online learning was a convenient way to learn in the comfort of their own homes.
“I’m not gonna lie and say I didn’t miss my friends and stuff,” said Westoop, “But it was also really nice to not have to wake up a full hour before class started, and I really liked not having to commute back and forth to school. But, I did miss my teachers. Don’t tell them I said that though.”