Jayden Myers, Eighth-Grade Student at Thurmont Middle School

As COVID-19 continues to spread around the globe, it has left many establishments and businesses closed down, including schools. Following the closings of schools, students and teachers began using an alternative to in-person classes in the form of virtual school. This has been a hard transition for many, as they were no longer able to meet in person and receive that one-on-one instruction. What was supposed to be only a few weeks of missing school to flatten a COVID curve, has turned into a long-term struggle for nearly a year. Students and teachers alike have been affected, and it leaves the decision of returning back to school questionable in many ways.

Students have their own opinion of online school, whether it be good or bad. As an eighth-grade student at Thurmont Middle School, I understand some of the challenges. One of the main issues that students face—myself included—is the ability to understand material in their classes. In school, learners could receive one-on-one help and get visual examples. Assignments are easier to comprehend when shown in-person rather than over a screen. Another issue that poses a challenge to students learning at home is distractions. As a student with ADHD, I sometimes have a hard time paying attention, and now that I’m home, I have many more distractions than I had at school. This is hard during online classes because my attention can quickly switch from my work over to something else, to the point I stop paying attention and I lose track of what I was doing.

In addition to the academic challenges, the loss of social interaction is also a concern.

The absence of social time greatly affects students. School provides social interaction with people rather than just a computer screen. Eighth-grader Olivia Johnson feels strongly against virtual schooling. “It’s the worst, and I hate it,” she said. “I would rather be in school to socialize, and it’s a lot easier to get help when you’re in school.” Liv continued to say, “It’s also a lot harder to focus because there are so many distractions.”

Liv’s days with virtual learning are challenging to say the least. “Every day, I have my main classes: E.L.A, science, history, and math. The days transition between A or B. On A days, I have one of my selected gym classes and tech. On B days, I have one of my extra classes and an extra help class for my last period,” she said. She explained that it switches every day, which makes it more difficult to follow her schedule. While this is just viewed through my perspective and Liv’s perspective, everyone feels differently about it, but the difficulties are apparent.

The in-school break has been tough for teachers, too.

For Michael Brown, a technology education teacher at Thurmont Middle School, virtual teaching is all new, and it hasn’t been easy. “One of the issues that I and other teachers have has been the plan on how to deliver instruction effectively,” Mr. Brown said. “Teachers also had to look at how to provide coherent instruction that was easily navigated and understood by all.” Mr. Brown continued, “The teachers had to think about how they would collaborate and plan together, especially for those who teach the same courses.”

These were just a few concerns that Mr. Brown and other teachers had as they began the journey into virtual instruction. As time goes on, the idea of returning back to school continues to be discussed, laying the foundation for new plans to be made for a safe return.

Mr. Brown also spoke of some of the aspects of returning to school. He talked about the safety measures and rules that students and teachers would need to follow in order to keep everyone safe and schools open, when the time comes.

Life Skills teacher Vanessa Yost added to our discussion. “We must make sure students, both online and in-person, have their individual needs met,” she said. Mr. Brown added on to that, “Things are changing quickly, and it’s adding more instructional complexity.” They both agreed that the transitions will be challenging. “However, we have great faith in our FCPS students to transition smoothly and continue to make excellent growth.”

Teachers have not been blind to their students’ struggles. Mr. Brown and Miss Yost agreed that virtual learning has been tough, with isolation, focus challenges, and time management pressures. They also noted that building relationships between students has been challenging.

Students will be meeting one another for the first time in many cases and will have to get to know one another on a more personal level, not behind a screen.

Since the start of virtual school, students and teachers have faced many transitions and have risen to these challenges with positivity. Although the road ahead in returning to school will have its bumps along the way, we will continue moving forward. As you can see, the issues students and teachers have faced are complex, but we are all learning and we will continue to get better each and every day. As this uncertain time progresses, teachers and students will still face challenges, and they will meet them head-on to the best of their abilities.

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