“Being virtual is definitely different than it was in the spring,” says junior Aashni Patel. “In the spring, everyone was virtual.”
As many Lovett students are preparing to join the other half of the alphabet on campus, others aren’t yet ready to return to campus at all. For the ninety-two middle and high schoolers who are enrolled in Lovett’s third cycle of virtual learning, school is in the same place where it has been since the start of the school year: their computer screen.
When I ask sophomore Adam Young how long he has been enrolled in virtual learning this fall, he realizes that he has lost track.. “However many cycles there’ve been, I’ve been through,” he says.
Remote learning isn’t new to Adam, or any other Lovett student, but what is different this school year is that it is no longer a universal experience. Virtual learning is now an alternative that students can opt-in to if they don’t feel comfortable coming to campus. Unlike in the spring, virtual learners now only make up a fraction of the student body, which leads many of them to feel less connected to their peers than they were last semester.
“It hurts a bit knowing that you’re virtual but everyone else is there,” Adam admits. Although he ultimately made the decision that virtual learning would be the safest option for him and his family, this was not a decision he was excited to make. He misses the social aspect of school, being able to see his friends (and even his teachers) at Lovett every day.
Morgan Rutherford, Lovett’s virtual learning coordinator, is in charge of organizing learning for virtual students in middle and upper school. “My main concern,” she says, “ is making sure [students] feel like they are connected.”
While nothing compares to an in-person experience, Mrs. Rutherford has been amazed by the work teachers have done to make their virtual students feel included.
“The interaction that the teachers have been able to maintain with students has been really remarkable,” she observes. Whether it’s using new, online platforms to teach material or grouping in-person and virtual students together to complete group work, teachers are doing the best they can to keep all of their students engaged in class.
Still, both Aashni and Adam confess that it can be difficult to stay focused at times, with so many distractions at home that wouldn’t be present in a normal classroom.
“It is very difficult to pay attention when you’re not actually in class,” Adam says. “For me personally, it’s very hard to re-associate home with school.”
There’s also a certain level of awkwardness when it comes to learning from home. Aashni tells me about how some of her teachers project their Google Meets onto the Smart Board for the in-person students to see. She understands that they do it so that she feels included, but it’s a bit uncomfortable when she is one of the only, or the only, virtual students in her class. “I’m on the screen and everyone’s looking at me,” she recounts, “and it’s kinda weird.”
Awkward moments like these, of course, are inevitable. Even the students who have chosen to learn from home would much rather get back to campus and to some sense of normalcy. But for now, remote learning will have to make do. As Adam puts it, “The only positive thing about virtual learning is that there’s an option for it, and I’m safe.”
Fortunately, while virtual learning certainly creates its challenges, it also creates an opportunity for students to decide what type of learning is best for their family in these times.
“For now, [virtual learning is] not going anywhere,” Mrs. Rutherford says, “because COVID, as far as we know, isn’t going anywhere.”