Lena DiBiasio, Grade 10, Staff Writer
High School of American Studies students were dreading their first day of school. Freshmen feared a rocky transition to a new school without having a building or face-to-face interactions. Upperclassmen worried about a repeat of last spring’s haphazard online school experience. Neither of these things happened.
What happened instead was a fall semester of blended schooling that fit students’ academic and social-emotional needs. On the first day, formal schedules for live and asynchronous classes were distributed to each student. Unlike last spring, when live classes were short office hours for struggling students, this year’s synchronous classes last 55 minutes and are mandatory. Each academic subject meets live, via Zoom, twice a week; students are expected to have their cameras on and to engage in active participation. The asynchronous days consist of assigned work posted on online schooling sites.
An HSAS sophomore, Lola Musselwhite, feels positively about the changes. “It's much more structured, which I like,” she said. “Last year, only a few teachers did regular Zooms, and I didn’t feel like I was learning as much as I could have been.” Musselwhite added that she thinks she is learning more this fall than she did last spring, which is a relief.
Each school in New York City has taken its virtual education in different directions, especially in terms of live Zoom classes. HSAS made more “student-friendly” decisions than other schools, according to Musselwhite. Because each academic class is only held live twice a week, each school day consists of three or four live classes. This allows for breaks in between to finish work, catch up on upcoming assignments, or relax. Some live school days begin at noon, allowing for students to sleep in, while others begin early but end at noon. This is not the case for all schools. Some students have daily live classes in each subject, meaning they spend six hours on a screen. The Baccalaureate School for Global Education in Queens gives students two minutes between classes, which leaves little time for completing online work, eating lunch, or taking a break.
Another sophomore, Magdalena Martinez, agreed with Musselwhite that the new remote schooling method has been a positive development. “It was difficult to adjust to the changes for this school year in the beginning, but the structure of live Zooms made school easier in the long run,” she said. “Now that we’re a few months in, it's clear that HSAS’s new system is more efficient and organized than before, which I appreciate.” When asked about the workload, Martinez expressed that it sometimes felt overwhelming, but mostly felt manageable. This view was not uncommon, even among freshmen.
One might assume that freshmen would have a hard time assimilating to a new school during the pandemic, but the freshmen at HSAS have managed to integrate into high school life surprisingly well. Despite having few in-person classes, first-year students have bonded with each other in an online chat on a community site called Discord. “At first I thought I wasn’t going to make any friends, but it's actually been really fun to meet a lot of other students on Discord,” said freshman Charlotte Kim. Kim noted that the transition to high school was easier than expected and, thus far, she is not overwhelmed with work.
While remote learning is far from perfect, the students and administrators at HSAS are making strides to create an effective learning environment. The changes that have been made to HSAS’s remote education, such as clearer schedules, are creating a more structured and stable school year for students. Despite the new school year occurring in the midst of a pandemic, students are finding ways to connect with each other online to maintain a sense of community. Even in these unexpected times, HSAS school spirit and morale remain high.