News and Opinion from Sisters, Oregon

The challenges of online learning at SMS

The challenges of online learning from school has taken a toll on many students in the Sisters School District, especially at Sisters Middle School (SMS).

Sisters Middle School student Holly Davis told The Nugget that, “one of the only positive impacts online learning had on me was having less classes during the day, simply because there was a lot less stress and anxiety hanging on my shoulders, I was and felt more free, but there was definitely a lot more cons to the story than pros.

“With online learning the hardest part about it was just simply not being able to connect with great teachers on a day-to-day basis. It was also really frustrating because a lot of people who learn differently were not at a level playing field, and it was so sad.”

Hudson Beckwith said, “I think one of the more higher points of online learning was that you had more time to do schoolwork on your own at your own pace.” He also said that “it was a very unforgettable experience to learn from home.”

Beckwith also said that the low point for him was that,“it made it much harder, not being able to talk to teachers. It is also very sad because a lot of people have been put back in their learning due to school from home.”

He hopes that the teachers will do a review with what kids learned through online school.

“I am going to miss online school,” said Andrew Islas, “just because it was so fun getting to have an experience like we had, but it is nice returning to school (four days a week) just because it feels like we are back to normal now.”

Eighth-grade math teacher Jonathon Kelly, noted that, “Before COVID-19, my experience with online-learning education was limited to online platforms and learning tools that were either designed to be full replacements for traditional instruction, skills practice only, or supplementary or tutorial in nature without a lot of cohesion or structure.

“When we first moved to comprehensive distance learning in April 2020, it was definitely a challenge to quickly find tools, resources, and platforms that could come close to replicating the in-person experience with all of its nonverbal cues and immediate feedback. However, some students really excelled with the more self-paced and mastery or proficiency-based learning format during comprehensive distance learning. They noticed that they were not as distracted and could follow a more flexible schedule that more closely met their needs.

“It was definitely a challenge to see students struggle with attendance, with social-emotional well-being and connection, and just not feel as motivated or excited about “coming” to school. I think every teacher was really feeling for and worried about our most vulnerable students and families who perhaps did not have the best home environment for learning, the most accommodating internet connection, or perhaps there were other stresses in their family and home life with all of the other ripple effects of a global pandemic.”

The Nugget asked Kelly how the past year has affected him personally.

“Personally, I found it challenging to teach math in a way that made sense for students,” he said. “While there are plenty of tutorial videos or guided examples out there, nothing beats being in person and having a teacher look for engagement and understanding in the moment. Even if students were interacting with me through a Zoom class live, as the teacher it’s hard to ensure participation, engagement, and active learning in the same way we can in the classroom. However, I have definitely gotten better at making videos and using other technology resources to better meet students’ needs, and those skills will translate well into the future, too.”

Asked about the future, he responded:

“It’s very hard to make any predictions about what the future may look like, but I am optimistic that we will continue on a path to return to normalcy as it is safe to do so. At the middle school, having students back in the building two days a week starting the last week of January and first week of February made a huge difference, and I think that returning to four days a week of school for all students on April 12 will make another huge positive impact as well.”

The Nugget spoke with Oregon Secretary of State Shemia Fagan, She got personal, noting, “My son has had a hard time learning from home, but we just try to have grace in our family.”

She said that, “I am working very hard with Governor Brown to get kids back in the classroom.”

Kale Gardner is a student at Sisters Middle School and is working as an intern with The Nugget Newspaper.


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