At St. Albans, I feel both mentally and physically challenged everyday. However, I believe that one of the most central aspects of the St. Albans experience is the community formed between teachers and students. The pandemic has hindered every function that makes St. Albans great, and although the school community has not vanished entirely, it’s not at the same level as it was in 2019.
One of the hardest things students have had to adapt to is the switch from in-person learning to online school. Obviously, there are myriad pros and cons to online learning, and, as we transition back to a state resembling some sort of “new normal,” I want to address how online school remains significantly more challenging than in-person learning.
For students, online school begins an hour behind the start of the day in years past and ends three-and-a-half hours later with optional training and sports afterwards. This gives students additional time for homework, studying, and what remains of extracurricular activities. Online school also allows students to train for sports at home, on their own time. The majority of assessments are now open-book and open-note, and “normal” midterms were eliminated.
From this vantage point, online school would appear easier than in-person learning. However, unlike in-person school, it remains vastly more difficult to interact with friends and socialize while participating in online learning. Not only is socialization difficult, but students also struggle to participate in class and get to know teachers in the online format. This unfortunate reality is especially evident for students that are new to St. Albans, and for underclassmen. It is never easy to transition to a new school, where the majority of your classmates already know each other and have established friend groups; it is even harder to connect with a new school community online.
There is also a serious downside to online learning making some classes easier then they would have been in a “normal” setting. Online learning presents an additional challenge for students trying to prepare for future years in the upper school. It also, as one might expect, hinders underclassmen’s teachers, trying to prepare their students for junior and senior years. Nevertheless, students can struggle in online classes they otherwise could have better understood and adapted to. Students must now adapt to the learning format rather than the material. As one STA freshman said of distance learning, “there's a disconnect between the students and the teachers, [which hinders the abilities] of both parties to do well in school.”
This hindrance does not even take into account cellphones and how they may affect the learning environment. With everything online, students can be increasingly tempted to cheat, and find it more difficult to pay adequate attention to classes and lectures. When a student sits in front of a computer screen for hours a day, and adds to that the screen time necessary to complete homework, it adds up.
But, for now, the school is making the gradual transition back to in person education, which will ease many difficulties caused by the past year’s “covidinal” stresses. In the future, I hope that students looking back on challenging school years will remember the good fortune of being able to learn in an interactive community of scholars.