Challenge Continues for Online Learning

An+infographic+showcasing+common+words+used+related+to+online+learning.

Infographic designed on Word Cloud Art

An infographic showcasing common words used related to online learning.

By Wendy Rodriguez, GODINEZ FUNDAMENTAL HIGH SCHOOL

For junior, Mariela Rodriguez, going to school online was necessarily not the best option because she lives in a household of nine family members.  

As the COVID-19 pandemic continues, many schools in California, including Santa Ana Unified School District (SAUSD) remain closed.

When schools closed March 13 at Godinez Fundamental High School (GFHS), many teachers, and their students, felt overwhelmed and under educated about online tools and the overall shift to distance learning. 

But with the start of a new school year and Governor Gavin Newsom ordering schools across California to start the school year online, SAUSD schools including GFHS are 100% online and are now facing many difficulties.

Rodriguez believes that the biggest challenge to the start of a new school year is communication between teachers and students.

“It makes me sad because I enjoyed the sociable environment, and now, I hardly know people in my classes due to the lack of discussion,” said Rodriguez.

Rodriguez said that she does not have the best focus in the world, so before the school year started, Rodriguez purchased noise cancelling earbuds which helps her focus.

we have to learn to be more creative as we support students”

— Fermin Leal

New assistant principal at GFHS, Ngoc Tran, sees that online learning is not the best option because students, like Rodriguez, lose that immediate contact with their teachers. 

“I hope that this is a temporary situation and when we come back on campus we’re going to be better for it,” said Tran.

Tran was raised in Santa Ana and attended Diamond Elementary, Carr Intermediate, and Valley High School. After graduating from Valley, she attended UCLA to earn her Bachelor’s degree in English, a Master’s degree in Education, and a Doctorate degree in Education. 

Back in Santa Ana to serve her community, Tran sees most students, turning in their assignments, staying focused and participating in class.  

“I’m worried about how students are accessing learning because everybody learns in different modalities. Many of our students have home responsibilities like watching over their siblings and doing chores,” said Tran.

At Godinez, the administration team provides support and resources such as textbook and hotspot pickups to every student, as well as Friday Zoom lunch check-ins with school social worker, Sarah Meastas. 

“What we can control and do, we do,” said Tran. 

With 53,315 confirmed cases in Orange County and Santa Ana with the most cases at 10,279, Advanced Placement United States History and World Geography teacher, Adrian Montero, knows that he’s teaching online for the foreseeable future. 

For Montero, he sees many teachers experimenting with new tools.

Montero uses NearPod and his own Youtube Channel where students can watch review videos at their own pace to make learning interactive and engaging. 

A picture of the first vehicles rolled out earlier this month in the Garfield Elementary neighborhood. (Photo Courtesy of Fermin Leal)

“I’m really proud of all the work that students, teachers, administration, and support staff have put in. We all need to be patient with one another, so we can get through this,” said Montero. 

This year, grades and attendance matters. But students face many obstacles including WiFi connectivity.

According to Fermin Leal, Chief Communications Officer at SAUSD, the district had a contract with JFK transportation to provide busing services for students. But, when schools closed down due to the pandemic, internet connection was a major challenge for students.

Because of this issue, JFK transportation suggested the idea of using their buses and other vehicles as mobile WiFi hotspots until students are back at school. 

“The goal is to have these mobile hotspots target neighborhoods where families have reported the most connectivity issues,” said Leal.

JFK’s WiFi provides 5G internet coverage; fast enough for video conferencing. 

Currently, there are a dozen buses scattered throughout Santa Ana neighborhoods, but the plan is to increase these numbers, so students can better connect with their teachers and succeed.

Leal added, “we want to have all our students back in the classroom when it is safe to do so. But in the meantime, we have to learn to be more creative as we support students.”

Junior, Diego Jimenez, is one of those students who continues to have issues with his internet connection. 

“Occasionally, my WiFi connection can be annoying and kick me out of my zoom meetings or take a lot of time to load,” said Jimenez. 

He actually prefers online classes because of the extra time he has to complete homework assignments with block periods.

On Mondays and Wednesdays, students attend periods 1,3,5 and Tuesdays and Thursdays, they attend 2,4,6. Every Friday, students attend all class periods. 

Jimenez added, “It can be awkward for students to ask questions in a physical class, but in an online space I feel as though most kids are anxious or apathetic when it comes to participation.”

English Teacher, Tessa Heaney, is using last year’s experience to be successful with her classes this year. At the beginning of this school year, she attended training and took the time to become familiar with technology and troubleshooting.  

However, Heaney still believes that the biggest challenge for her students is not having stable WiFi or a quiet place to work. Much of the work she assigns can be done independently for her students. 

But for Heaney most, if not all students, are present during Zoom classes. And her students know that her work is now mandatory and to take it seriously.

“Being available, connecting students to school resources, extended time to get work done, and having detailed assignments online with plenty of review seems to be helping,” added Heaney. 

The new students at Godinez haven’t set foot on campus, so it is much more challenging for them as it is for returning students.  

As a freshman at Godinez, Kendyl Pola was sad that she didn’t have a normal first day of high school. 

“It was odd logging on to a Google meet and not seeing my friends. The most difficult part is having to sit at my desk. I’m a talkative person, so I miss interacting with new people,” said Pola. 

It’s difficult for Pola to learn online because she likes to ask questions for clarification. 

In honor of Suicide Prevention Month, the Godinez faculty posted photos to send a positive message to students. (Photo Courtesy of Godinez ASB)

In the spring, Pola said that many of her teachers did not have any meetings. She had trouble with her internet connection, but now her internet  connection is stable. Although it’s hard to focus, she manages by putting her phone away and sitting at a desk. 

Last spring, physical education teacher, Roberto Vasquez, made himself available with the use of various digital platforms. 

“My goal was to provide meaningful enrichment opportunities as we navigated through uncertain times,” said Vasquez.

Prior to starting the year, the entire PE department met to discuss different lessons that aligned with California State Standards, such as daily workouts and unit assessments.

During the summer, Vasquez taught a class which provided him an early opportunity to test various online tools.

“One of the challenges, for me, is real-time student engagement due to remote learning and connectivity issues,” said Vasquez. 

He believes that his students have adapted well to his class and although, the challenges are all still there, Vasquez keeps reminding his students to be flexible with each other.

He added, “I just want to remind every student that we, as teachers, are here to help and support you during this current remote learning experience.”

But senior, Gabriel Cruz, thinks that the lack of communication between teachers and students is a major change because he sees students who are too shy to talk during class.

Cruz uses an agenda to keep up with his homework and upcoming events and believes that online school is more manageable.

“School is less stressful because since I alternate classes, homework does not pile up as much as last year,” said Cruz.

On Tuesday September 22, 2020, the SAUSD Board of Education approved a tentative plan for all students to return to school. For sixth to 12th graders, the estimated time is January. 

As Rodriguez continues distance learning she feels, “most of my teachers have been doing great in explaining and balancing their work, but we all have that one class that makes us stay up late.” 

Online or in class, students and staff continue to try their best to adapt.

This story was originally published on Grizzly Gazette on September 28, 2020.