Screenshot courtesy of Mr. Sheh
Friday, March 6, 2020. 2:20 pm. Two thousand students poured out of Desert Mountain’s hallways, expecting to return in just a little more than a week. The mood was lively, with students excited about their impending spring breaks. Sure, there had been a virus gripping the world, but nobody seemed that worried.
Maybe they should have been worried–because students were leaving school premises for the very last time this school year.
Despite all this, school must somehow endure. Welcome to the new district mandate: online learning.
“At first, with everything changing, it was a little scary because we didn’t know what was going to happen, said junior Claryssa Douglas. “We didn’t know if we were going to, in the case of IB (International Baccalaureate), get our IB diplomas anymore, we weren’t really sure how testing was going to work, or how online classes were going to work.
“We had seen it happen in other countries, but we weren’t really sure how Desert Mountain was going to work with it.”
However, as time passed, all parties involved were able to acclimate themselves to the new online system. “I think at first it was scary. Now that we are a couple weeks into it, I don’t think it’s as bad,” Douglas said.
For freshman Ganesh Vudaru, online learning so far is proving to be an interesting experience. “We can ask questions, we can understand clearly, and also the teacher can mute us,” he said. Classes held through Zoom and Microsoft Teams, the most common platforms at DM, “are bringing people closer together, which is really helpful. We can also contact our friends,” Vudaru said.
Different classes are adapting in different manners. Perhaps most glaringly, testing is now much more difficult, at least logistically.
Examinations are still continuing–but with some major changes. Because cheating or academic dishonesty is more difficult to monitor online, more tests have been open book or open note, students said.
However, while some assessments are taking place, others–like the IB examinations and final exams in all Scottsdale Unified School District–are being cancelled. This has led to a more relaxed environment, some students said.
“Since I don’t have big exams to worry about anymore I can have more fun with what I’m doing,” said senior Imogen Brooks. “With everything that’s going on right now it’s nice to have school as a relaxing environment to learn with friends.”
But final exams weren’t all that was cancelled.
Prom, graduation, all performing arts final performances, and the IB Recognition Ceremony are among the events that were casualties of COVID-19.
The good news: Many students reported a significant reduction in workload. Others, however, said assignments can come in waves.
“It’s been a bit of a roller coaster in terms of workload,” said senior Sarah Glomski. “One day my schedule is packed, and the next day I have close to nothing, so I’m still trying to find a good daily routine.”
Teachers, meanwhile, also are finding themselves in the middle of a drastic transition.
“It’s hard to create material that’s completely online,” said Ms. Jongewaard, the freshman IB English teacher. “It’s also hard just to communicate with my students, as well. You know, I miss them, and it pretty much has been horrible.”
However, she bridged the gap between student and teacher with her office hours program.
“I think my biggest success has been office hours, honestly,” she said, adding that “just being able to use Zoom and talking one-on-one with students” has been beneficial.
This office hours program, implemented school-wide, was the idea of the Desert Mountain administration.
“My view as a principal, when we established that a teacher would be available an hour a day, every day, was so that kids could get immediate help,” Dr. Hirsch said.
The office hours have paid dividends for many students.
“I had a problem with an assignment, on a preposition assignment for English, and I didn’t know what to do,” Vudaru said, “so luckily my teacher kept office hours, which allowed me to ask my teacher.”
Overall, the transition was surprisingly smooth, Dr. Hirsch said.
“I would describe it as smooth as it could possibly be with 2,000 students and 110 teachers,” she said.
At the end of the day, though, online learning just is not the same as being in a classroom, though the students and faculty of Desert Mountain have been making the best of the situation.
“We became teachers and educators because we absolutely love students and our subjects, and we have a lot of fun,” said Dr. Hirsch. “No one knows how great it is to be a teacher in a classroom. That is magic, and it’s really fun, and when that’s gone, and we have to find a way to keep teaching and learning going, it’s a big challenge.”