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FILE — Kristin Johnson of West Valley High School is an honors world history and walking and yoga teacher, as well as an ASB adviser.

We all know this school year is not going exactly as planned, and students and teachers alike are missing the time they had in the classroom. While everyone acutely feels the loss of in-person school, there are some unexpected benefits to virtual learning.

“Education is arguably one of the biggest systems in the country, and any system that big changes really slowly,” West Valley High School Associated Student Body adviser Kristin Johnson said.

The coronavirus served as a catalyst for change, forcing schools to reimagine what learning looks like. Many are not happy with the short-term changes, but this drastic shift can be good for students in the long run. Teachers have been forced to learn new ways to teach.

The rest of the world has been in the digital age for a while, but the education system prior to COVID-19 still looked quite similar to how our parents and grandparents were taught. The forced virtual learning platform has ushered the education system into the digital world. When students do return to their classrooms, Johnson does not expect it will involve a return to the typical textbook style of teaching.

With virtual learning, the schedule for students and teachers is wildly different than it was for a normal, in-person school day.

As Johnson observed, “When the bell schedule goes away, we get some very interesting opportunities.”

Flexibility

One of these opportunities is that teachers have more time to work when they’re not teaching.

“Teachers have always wanted to learn and plan together, but we haven’t had the time,” Johnson said. “Now we can have meetings during the school day when we’re not teaching where we can compare the different strategies we are implementing virtually.”

Teachers also have more time to communicate with individual students. With synchronous class only in the morning, many teachers have office hours in the afternoon, during which students can communicate with teachers directly. Some teachers even offer individual meetings with students who need the help.

Also, prior to COVID-19, being an active member of more than one club was difficult. But flexible schedules now allow students to be active members of many clubs, which increases student involvement. Leadership students especially benefit from not having a fully scheduled school day, as there are now many more opportunities for students to work on collaborative projects. In a typical school year, that time would have been confined to the 50-minute period for ASB.

Changing old traditions

School leadership programs are not exempt from the slow rate of change of the educational system. Johnson said the chaos of the coronavirus “released (us) from traditions that we had probably outgrown.”

Things such as morning announcements have been a part of daily routine for a long time, although only a small portion of the student body actually listens to them. Without the ability to deliver in-person announcements, ASB students have had to get creative with delivering information to students.

We now have weekly video announcements that are more informative and engaging. Without the entire uprooting of our usual schedule, it may have taken a while to change that particular outdated tradition.

Another program implemented is the virtual lunch tables where any student can join a Zoom call where they can find other students who want to talk about shared interests. Some of the topics include sports, politics, mental health, Dungeons & Dragons, and outdoor activities. In the traditional school cafeteria, there are no placards on each table denoting what those who sit there are interested in. So, these virtual settings give many students a non-intimidating way to interact with peers who have similar interests.

The lack of in-person learning benefits high schoolers outside the educational setting, too.

“There are high school kids who are learning to manage their own time better, get jobs and do things in the community they would never have had time to with traditional school,” Johnson said. “Some good will come of that.”

This generation has become much more independent solely because of the atmosphere they are being brought up in. Johnson said that going through this pandemic has helped teenagers grow “confidence and skill sets they wouldn’t have developed until they went to college.”

Improving fairness

COVID-19 has also sparked a bigger conversation about the fairness of the education system as a whole.

“The coronavirus made us talk about the inherent inequities that we always knew were there,” Johnson said.

This problem was easy to ignore prior to the outbreak because there was always an option for the kids in need to come use the school. The pandemic forced us to ask, “What are we doing for those kids?” Prior to this current situation, Johnson thinks we were not doing enough.

“I hope as a society when we come out of this we can’t let it get that spread out again because during a crisis it gets that much harder,” she said.

Although students and teachers miss the classroom, there are some positive outcomes from these dark times.

As Johnson put it: “We already broke school and I don’t think it will ever be as rigid as it was before.”

This lack of rigidity in instruction this fall can drive progress in our education system and change things for the better once our country overcomes the pandemic.

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