Gone virtual: How COVID-19 has affected school life.
Alexis Joy Viloria | Maui High School
To curb the spread of the infamous COVID-19 that has been sweeping nations off their feet, many have turned to alternative platforms to meet the demands of modern life. Operating using platforms such as Zoom, WebEx, and Skype, the world has become creative in their ways to unite while keeping their distance. From meetings to concerts to conferences, virtual communication is on the rise and changing life as we know it. In this scary time of stay-at-home orders, face masks, and social distancing, technology is what brings society together.
Schools across the state have been taking advantage of these virtual platforms to keep students engaged but of course it is completely different from what would have been the rest of the school year. To protect the safety of students and their families, schools communicate with their students virtually and seek ways to give students the school experience they deserve the best way they can with virtual events and classes. Dubbed “Distance Learning,” teachers can schedule and hold classes with their students via programs such as Zoom. Though vital to the health and safety of students and teachers alike, is this mode of schooling effectively getting through to students? The staff and students of Maui schools continue to explore and live through this topic.
Glenn Prieto, a business teacher at Maui High School shares his take on the effects of COVID-19 on school. The advisor of Maui High school’s DECA Chapter, Prieto helps his students prepare for a future in business, preparing them for competitions and setting them up for success in the business world. After placing at the Career and Technical Student Organizations conference and qualifying for the International DECA Conference, Prieto and his students were faced with a disappointing reality right as the virus started to make its mark on the United States. “We were planning a trip in April for Maui High DECA students who qualified to compete at the International DECA Conference, which was canceled.” The news did not stop there. As the state started making extensions to spring break as the virus took on Hawai‘i, Prieto was left to question what would happen over the course of the rest of the school year. “Then came the subsequent extension of Spring Break followed by the Stay-at-Home order. Questions started to race through my mind with regards to grades, school work, and what will happen with the kids; graduation; end of year Business Academy events.” With the introduction of distance learning, some of Prieto’s questions were answered and teachers had to face the reality of the situation. “Once the reality settled in, it came down to how can we continue some form of continuity of learning and sense of normalcy to ease anxiety and any other emotions that students may be feeling,” Prieto says. Though new for many students across the state, Prieto is no stranger to distance learning. “I for one had earned my graduate degree mostly through distance learning, it was difficult at first. It takes a lot of preparation on the part of the teacher and a lot of discipline and follow-through for the student. The positive side of it is that it offers flexibility and can happen from anywhere and at any time.” Prieto’s success proves the effectiveness of distance learning on his part but he agrees that, for his students, it is not comparable to traditional classroom learning. “I cannot speak for all students, but for my students, the benefit is not there.” Much of Prieto’s lessons involve engaging his students in real-world situations in their area of learning: business. “It includes hands-on real-world experiences where, for example, finance students operate a satellite branch of a credit union or entrepreneurship students run their own pop-up businesses on campus. Students can learn and interact virtually through distance learning but the hands-on, learn-by-doing experience is not there.” Through these difficult times, Prieto makes sure to utilize the tools that he is provided with to give his students the best online learning experience he can. “I have extended the time usually demanded to allow students the flexibility and time to complete the learning activities. Live sessions are conducted as needed or by appointment and I make myself available through ‘office hour’ times, throughout the hours of the usual school day.” As the virus starts to calm down in the state, Prieto has high hopes for the upcoming school year. “The hope for next school year is that we are still able to offer the same level of learning and activities as well as support for students, no matter what form of schooling will be like. It has been challenging thus far and it will continue to be that way until the pandemic can be faced head-on either through treatment or a vaccine.”
The School-Community Relations Coordinator of Maui High School, Stacy Woodson looks at her view of the virus’ impact on school life. As the Department of Education responded to the virus as the situation escalated, Woodson found a sense of understanding, especially considering the novelty of it all. “This is uncharted territory. I understand that as much as possible they want to make decisions based on information and data that comes in. It’s a great big balancing act. Making informed decisions is best and yet at the same time sometimes you just have to make the best call with the information you have in front of you and run with it.” Woodson agrees traditional classroom learning is the best but she also makes sure to consider what is best for the current climate. “For most situations, I feel learning will be more successful in a physical school or educational setting but I feel distance learning was the best alternative and almost the only alternative next to not having any kind of learning at all.” Distance learning is the best alternative to none but there are challenges that can arise out of it. “There are many, many difficulties with trying to make a sudden transition to online learning, especially for a state-wide public school system. Some of the main issues that come up with an abrupt transition to distance learning are access to technology for everyone, technology learning curve, technical issues/malfunctions and then, of course, things like a limitation on what teaching strategies can be utilized when teaching over the internet versus face to face, weakened communication and engagement, etc.” In this evolving situation, Woodson knows everyone is contributing to their best ability. “I think leadership, teachers, parents, students collectively are doing the best they can in the midst of this historic global pandemic.” As her school’s School-Community Relations Coordinator, Woodson is a seasoned user of technology when it comes to her career where she interacts with much of the community through social media platforms but for other school employees, the transition to virtual working is new territory that can potentially bring long-term benefits. “Many who are not as accustomed to tech in their daily activities have had to take the long-resisted plunge to embrace and utilize technology in new ways due to Corona. In a way, that may be one plus coming out of all of this.” Though she sees the positives in this digital revolution, Woodson also sees some difficulty. “A tough part about it in our current situation is that EVERY ASPECT is digital now. There is very little break from technology in the daily routine since it is currently our only source of information, collaboration, socialization, entertainment, etc.” Because of the virus, many school events were canceled, including the beloved graduation of our Seniors. “As far as school events, many of those were just flat out canceled. Graduation is the biggest heartbreak of them all. Any virtual variation that we can think up will still pale in comparison to a traditional ceremony. It is among the biggest heartbreaks caused by COVID in the Education sector.” Alongside our Seniors, Woodson took the time to honor all the individuals in school who were affected. “Ultimately I hope the upcoming school year shows us how quickly we can bounce back from major setbacks like the many that COVID-19 has thrown at us.” Amidst these trying times, Woodson shares her words for the community. “Let’s work together, be understanding, be cooperative, be resilient, don’t complain, be resourceful, be hopeful, help others where you can.”
New alumnus of Maui High School Ghenesis Balaan shares his thoughts regarding the many changes that COVID-19 has prompted in his life. As a Senior, Ghenesis was looking forward to finally getting to walk on the graduation stage but he already knew that the pandemic had other plans. “When I first heard about the possibility of school being closed due to the coronavirus, I instantly knew that the cancellation of the traditional graduation commencement for the class of 2020 would follow. When the Hawai‘i DOE officially announced the news, I was distraught; we had our last day at school without even knowing it.” Ghenesis knew this decision was best for the safety and health of his state, even if that meant sacrificing all he had been waiting for. “I know this was a difficult decision for our government to make. Although my senior year didn’t end the way I expected it to, I’m glad our government was able to act fast and make a decision to keep our state safe.” In place of a traditional graduation ceremony, schools in the Baldwin-Kekaulike-Maui complex have resulted to another alternative. Although unorthodox for a Hawai‘i graduation, Ghenesis keeps in mind the safety of the community. “Maui High School will be doing a drive-through graduation commencement. It’s not what I envisioned my graduation to be but it’s going to be the most we’ll get our schools to do to ensure a safe environment for us all.” Placing first at the Career and Technical Student Organizations conventions held in Honolulu, Ghenesis was looking forward to ending his HOSA career with a bang in Houston, Texas after placing at the International level in the year prior. “Having been one of the Hawai‘i delegates at the HOSA International Leadership conference in the previous year, I can personally say that nothing can compare to an in-person conference. As a result of last year’s conference, I was able to capture a bronze medal with my partner Breanna Alviedo and the moment we were up on the stage was so magical that we looked forward to attending the next year’s conference.” Like many other big events worldwide, the International Leadership Conference was canceled because of the virus. Instead, convention planners opted for a virtual event where all competition and seminars would be held online via various testing platforms and virtual conference applications. Ghenesis, however, thinks this solution does not make up for the real experience. “Honestly, when I heard the HOSA International Leadership Conference was taking the virtual route, I was disappointed. I would rather have them cancel it instead and offer the next year of attendees a much better experience in person. In other words, I was less motivated to attend.” Though there to compete, Ghenesis believes there is a whole other purpose of being at the conference as well. “The whole hype of the HOSA Future Health Professionals International Leadership Conference was to meet people from all over the world who share the same passion you do about the healthcare field in person.” Planning on entering the University of Hawai‘i Maui College in the fall, Ghenesis is hopeful for a smooth transition even with COVID-19 taking its toll on the world. “I believe that the University of Hawai‘i Maui College will do its absolute best to make sure my transition from high school to college is seamless amidst the COVID-19 pandemic. However, I am expecting most of my classes and sessions with my professors online.” Even with its challenges, Ghenesis hopes all students will do their part to make the transition as seamless as possible. “Because our colleges/universities are changing their methods of teaching, I believe we, as students, should also put in the effort to adapt to their changes for the university to run a smooth operation.”
Class of 2020 graduate Romelyn Tabangcura recounts how she felt when the virus took on her Senior year. When news got out that traditional classroom learning would be discontinued for the rest of the school year, Romelyn was distraught to know what would happen to the last stretch of her time at Maui High. “When I heard that school was canceled for the rest of the year, I was sad at the fact that I wouldn’t be able to experience the last few months of my senior year with people I’ve grown up with,” Tabangcura says. Alongside her life-long bonds are her connections with the respected teachers of her school, a proper goodbye abruptly taken by the pandemic. “I also developed good friendships with a few of my teachers so I’m sad I couldn’t say a proper goodbye to them before I go to college.” When it comes to graduation, her feelings are no different. “I’m sad that the class of 2020 won’t be able to experience graduation that we’ve waited twelve years for. It is the one-time event that marks the end of a chapter and opens a new one as we step into the adult world.” Thankfully, though, as her school organizes a drive-through graduation, Romelyn knows she is getting the best she can in these circumstances. “Although it is not the same as a traditional ceremony, we should still make the most of the situation and keep in mind we are all in this together.” As the president of her school’s HOSA chapter, Romelyn has placed at the state level in Human Growth and Development for almost her whole time in HOSA and, like Ghenesis, has qualified to go to the International Leadership Conference in Houston, Texas. Though committed to her event and her future, Romelyn has her own reservations regarding the virtual convention. “When I first heard about ILC being converted to a virtual conference, I was pretty sad because the physical experience of attending conferences, meeting new people and sharing and creating memories with my peers won’t be the same as participating in a virtual conference.” Despite the untraditional approach, Romelyn shared her gratitude towards the opportunity to represent her chapter and her state. “However, I am grateful that we are still given the opportunity to showcase our skills and abilities even though it may not be the traditional way of doing so.”
Admittedly, the pandemic that we are all living through does not make for the best climate when it comes to school and even life in general but members of the community are making the best out of the situation. From distance learning to virtual events, all we can do is be grateful for the measures that the world is taking to protect the health and wellbeing of society. While essential workers risk their health for the sake of our community, we all can do them justice by staying home and doing whatever we can to keep both ourselves and others safe. Distance learning and virtual platforms have given everyone the opportunity to do so amidst a time where everyone is facing difficulty.
Google® Is Not Everything is a monthly column authored by high school students. The title of the column emphasizes that education is more than just googling a topic. Google® is a registered trademark. This month’s guest columnist is Alexis Joy Viloria, a Junior at Maui High School. She is the founder and President of Maui High’s SaberScribes, their journalism club. Alexis is also a committed member of HOSA-Future Health Professional as the Secondary Representative of the Hawai‘i HOSA Executive Council and a state gold medalist. Alexis hopes to one day become a Pediatric Physician. She is the daughter of Alex and Juvy Viloria.