High School Students Weigh In on Distance Learning, School Reopening

Courtesy photos.

William Axelrod, Adrianna Zhang and Alan Terrones.

Distance learning has been difficult for many students, parents and teachers, and the calls for public schools to reopen as quickly as possible have grown louder and more frequent. As part of a series of discussions on “Civic” about school reopening and distance learning, high school juniors Alan Terrones, at Gateway High, Adrianna Zhang, at Lowell High, and William Axelrod, at Ruth Asawa School of the Arts, share their experiences and perspectives.

All three students are able to participate in distance learning, from various spaces they can call their own. Terrones said he usually attends class seated on his bed. Axelrod migrates around his home in search of a quiet spot. Zhang usually attends her first class of the day in bed and then switches to her desk. But the students noted that not all students have been so lucky. 

“All three of us have said that our times in distance learning have not been horrible or not been too difficult. And I just want to point out that it is very privileged for us to be able to say that,” Zhang said. “A lot of people I know are really struggling.”

Classes have started later in the day for distance learning, and that was among a handful of changes the students found welcome. Still, after nearly a year of online school, it has gotten old. The most difficult thing is staying motivated, the students said. 

“Constantly being on screen makes it, like, really hard for me to pay attention,” Terrones said. “My attention span has really decreased.”

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All three wanted to get back to in-person learning, but envisioned a hybrid model. Terrones said he sees school sports facilities and the bus that he would take to school as potential avenues for the spread of the coronavirus. Zhang said she would be comfortable going back into the classroom if the school district is able to hold to its safety checklist, which includes ventilation, a mask mandate and surveillance testing. But, noting the easily crowded hallways at her school, Zhang also said she would feel safer if classes would resume only when on-site school staff have been vaccinated.

“I believe the number for herd immunity is like 75%. So, if 75% of San Franciscans can get vaccinated, that would make me feel a lot more comfortable,” she said. “The last thing I would want is a younger person coming to school, they’re completely safe, but if they get a disease, and they bring it home to their grandparent who is elderly — that issue would be the worst case scenario. And I don’t want any of that to happen.” 

For his part, Axelrod acknowledged feeling some frustration that the San Francisco district has lagged behind others in the region and nation in reopening. 

“For a while it seemed like they were just waiting, and not really doing much. Not that I think it’s an easy thing to reopen the school district,” he said. But, he added, “I think that it’s definitely possible for us to reopen, probably in a hybrid way.”

A segment from our radio show and podcast, “Civic.” Listen daily at 8 a.m. and 6 p.m. on 102.5 FM in San Francisco, and subscribe on Apple, Google, Spotify or Stitcher

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