Ever since schools worldwide have been forced to turn to school remotely because of COVID-19, many kids have struggled with the fact of having to sit at home, staring at a computer screen for hours with difficulty focusing.
Seven months later, some schools are still fully remote, some fully in-person, and some have turned to a hybrid option. At Wheat Ridge High School, there have been a handful of students who chose the hybrid option for the school year of 2020 – 2021, which seemed to be a good choice for many.
According to The Sydney Morning Herald, new data has shown that twice as many kids as before have been highly distracted when doing school work from home compared with when they are in a classroom at school. The most affected kids have been students from 8th to 12th grade. One of the main reasons as to why students have become more distracted and less focused lately is because of the excessive use of technology like phones or tablets while doing homework or on Zoom calls with teachers. There have also been many complaints from teachers about students not having their cameras on during Zoom calls. This has made many teachers wonder whether or not students are engaging and focusing on lessons that are being taught. Some students might actually want to learn from home regardless of their situations, but staring at a computer screen for hours can be a little tiresome.
At Wheat Ridge High School, the majority of students have chosen the hybrid option which means they go to school in-person for two days a week and three days a week remotely from home. There are two different cohorts that are based on last names. Students with last names starting with A-K go to school on Monday and Tuesday while students with last names starting with L-Z attend school on Wednesday and Thursday.
Bonnie Guerrero, a junior who has gone fully remote, was asked whether she focused better at home or school and responded, “I personally think that I focus better at home. For me, as a student, I tend to rush myself with work and try to get everything done as quickly as possible. So, since I’m at home all of the time, with not a lot to do, I find it very easy to take my time and put as much effort as I can into my work… Not only does it help and benefit me, it’s safer.”
This is an interesting response because not only is she speaking for herself, she is speaking for other, fully remote students who might feel the same way. Full remote students might be safer and less likely to be influenced by the coronavirus.
Other students, who are hybrid students, have different opinions of themselves and their focus on school work. Joab Fuentes, a junior said, “I focus better at school because I feel like at home you have more things around you that can easily distract you, but at school you’re limited.” Many students like Fuentes seem to have more focus in class than outside of school, which supports the finding that the majority of teens are struggling focusing at home.
Sergio Caldera, another junior, was also asked about where he focuses better. He said “I focus better at school because I have the teachers there to help me in person and it’s easier to learn that way and at home, there’s a lot of things that distract me like my phone or T.V. … It also takes a while for teachers to respond to emails whenever I need help.” I know many students and friends who indeed struggle with this problem about the lack of help they’re getting from teachers and not being able to get help from teachers or can’t have their questions answered.
So, many hybrid students including me, feel like we learn much better at school than at home because it’s what we’re used to and we have the support of teachers who are willing to help despite the circumstances we have all been put under.
Additionally, at school, our days and schedules are totally planned out. There are rules to follow in class and out of class, but learning from home often means making up your own routine and for some students, the flexibility is liberating. But kids and teens who struggle with focusing tend to do better when they know exactly what to expect. Furthermore, the pandemic has caused overwhelming and mixed emotions for many people. Those emotions and worries can be as distracting as a phone or T.V. playing in the next room. Many teens have feelings of loss because of COVID-19. They might be missing out on big events like moving up ceremonies, prom, and graduation, which is something that students usually look forward to.
Social worker, Lindsay Wonstolen, has struggled a bit with student engagement. Wonstolen stated, “We are seeing higher numbers of students failing classes and we are hearing from teachers that many students are not doing the work when they are not physically in school. This is creating a wider achievement gap as students who would normally be receiving C’s and D’s are failing. This is not only a Wheat Ridge problem; it is a country wide problem.” This proves that many students have not been successfully participating in class. Because of this, many students are failing classes and having bad attendance rates.
It has not only been tough for students to focus and engage, it has also become tough for teachers to get students to pay attention and to be present in class. Because of how complex this school year has been, many teachers including Wonstolen have many questions about how to help students engage more in class. She added, “How do we increase student-teacher connections? How do we engage students in online learning? How do we set up structures to support students with executive functioning skills while they are remote? These are all questions we have not been able to answer sufficiently to see a marked increase in remote engagement… We are coming up with ideas, trying new things, and working to improve. We want to do enough without overwhelming students.”
In the end, it can be challenging focusing in and out of school, but teachers should also understand that it can be overwhelming for students to have to wake up every day and login to their computers and look at a screen for many hours. Some are also coping with the trauma of family members losing jobs, getting sick, or even dying and social media exposes them to what other people are going through which makes them less focused in school. Being at school provides a sense of comfort and normalcy for many students which makes it easier for them to focus, but not all students can be there and that is why we should just take this school year one step at a time.