This school year is unlike anything any of us have seen in our lifetimes. Due to COVID-19, most schools are entirely virtual, including Mar Vista High School (MVHS). This brings with it new obstacles and challenges that students and teachers are having to face everyday. In order to learn more about how MVHS is handling virtual education, I spoke to a number of staff members and students to get their thoughts on the school year so far.

Jessica Neamon is the Assistant Principal at MVHS. She explained that the staff at Mar Vista has participated in several days of professional development in order to learn how to properly use the programs and technology needed for virtual education. Most of the teachers have also sought out professional learning opportunities on their own in addition to the training provided by the district.

Steven Case, Michael Crawford, and Cherilyn Sias have all been teachers for over 20 years. This school year is new territory for them, and they’ve all faced their own struggles and apprehensions.

As a calculus teacher, Case has been struggling with the transition to online learning. Calculus is a difficult subject for many students to understand, and it’s even more difficult when he can’t explain things in person. He said, “I want my students to have a deep understanding. That can be a big heavy door to open when we are in class. That door is even heavier now, with lots of locks that I don’t have the key for.”

He explained that he misses the connection he is able to have with his students when he can teach them in-person, which is a sentiment other teachers agreed with.

Crawford, who teaches English, said, “I’m growing more comfortable with it, but I miss my classroom. I miss the kids. I miss being able to check in with live students--to ask them if they understand what I’m explaining.”

Sias, who teaches history, agreed saying, “The students are getting ample information and could learn a lot, but the certainty I have about how much the students ‘get is unknown.”

Neamon added, “The teaching is not the difficult part; connecting with students we cannot see is the difficult part.”

The teachers all seem to agree that while they definitely prefer in-person teaching, virtual education is a necessity right now, and is the right course of action. Crawford said, “[Virtual education is] most certainly the right thing to do and I’m glad we live in a state/county/district that takes our safety and health seriously. I feel very fortunate that I can continue serving as a teacher while still protecting myself and my family from risk of exposure to the virus.”

They also mentioned that despite everything, this experience will help them in the future to develop new creative ways to teach their students. Crawford explained, “I’m learning to use some new online tools that will very likely still be helpful when we’re back in the classroom. I can ‘see’ students working on google docs and provide individual feedback in ways that I don’t always get to do in the classroom.”

Despite the teacher’s worries about virtual education, the students seem to be handling the transition well. Bryanna Schaffer is a senior this year, and she feels as though the level of information she is absorbing hasn’t changed much from when school was in-person. She was worried at first about the virtual school year, saying, “I was extremely nervous about school being entirely virtual this year. Academically, I was nervous about the classes not being engaging in what was taught via Google Meets. Since virtual learning has been an ongoing thing, I was scared of what I was going to get out of it, if I were to be getting the same academics as I would in a classroom.”

Dante Drolet is a junior, and he similarly expressed his apprehensions going into this school year after having a difficult online spring, but explained that it has been going better than expected.

In spite of her apprehensions, Schaffer feels that she is benefitting from virtual education just as much as she would from in-person school. She said, “The teachers are well trained to know how to work the system of Google Meets and I can honestly say I haven’t had any problem with not getting enough. If anything I feel like I get more help from virtual learning, then I would in person. There are office hours all day on Fridays, and certain teachers have their own office hours where students can join and just ask for help.”

Drolet agreed. He explained that while he isn’t reaping all of the benefits that he would have had school been in-person, “It’s not drastically lower than before and I am still learning a lot.”

The staff at MVHS is doing their best to provide their students with the education they deserve, and the students are doing their best to adapt to this new way of learning. These are unprecedented times, but if anyone can handle it, it’s the MVHS community.

Neamon summed it up perfectly. “Our teachers at Mar Vista High School are second to none and are navigating the waters of distance learning the way any professional does - but we look forward to the days where we return to school campus and get to see our kids in our physical classroom when it is safe to do so.”

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