A cluster of friends high-fived and chatted at the entrance to Reseda Charter High on Wednesday morning, standing rather close to one another at a time when public health officials caution against breaching 6 feet with anyone outside your household.

They stood in a line that snaked around the block to pick up school-issued laptops for remote instruction. It’s been nearly two weeks since schools in Southern California and across the nation shuttered, hoping to hamper spread of the coronavirus pandemic.

“Well, that’s why we’re doing it, we haven’t seen each other,” 17-year-old Bryan Colmenares, a senior at the L.A. Unified San Fernando Valley school, said, explaining his craving for a break in quarantine. “At first, I thought it was all jokes when they said two weeks.”

As high school students transition to what could be long-term distance learning, they are also navigating abrupt social isolation at home that can feel daunting — even as members of a social-media savvy generation — and worrying about loved ones as the pandemic unfolds.

Hamilton High senior Asia Bryant, 18, said she has been facing additional challenges managing her anxiety from home as the pandemic unfolds on top of usual grades and classes stress.

“It has been such a struggle,” she said. “Without having face-to-face interaction with students and teachers, it’s just been so isolating. I’ve changed my whole schedule, everything, even my own learning methods. I feel very off.”

Though confident she is doing her part to keep her parents and grandparents safe from the coronavirus by staying home, she said she feels helpless and somewhat depressed at the idea her last months of high school will be spent off-campus.

Most schools in Southern California have closed through at least May 1, and Gov. Gavin Newsom warned campuses are likely to extend closures for the remainder of the traditional school year. Meanwhile districts hope to aid vulnerable families in precarious economic times by distributing free meals daily and other basic social services.

As schools continue to develop their distance learning plans, urban districts, such as LAUSD, reported mixed results during the first week with parents complaining of inconsistency between schools and tens of thousands of students lacking home tech devices or internet connection.

Brendesha Tynes, a professor of education and psychology at USC, warns that long-term closures threaten to exacerbate pre-existing academic inequality, in part because of the cultural gap between home lives of students and the classroom.

When it comes to accessing broadband and getting everyone a laptop, “that’s just the bare minimum,” Tynes said.

To combat social and emotional isolation, she said teachers should be trying to make the best use of digital tools to facilitate collaborative groups, including smaller ones “to give them the opportunity to talk about the things they would normally at the cafeteria or in the hallway.”

Teachers should also be aware of the added susceptibility to experience online bullying which present as depression and PTSD symptoms, she added.

Yet students have already found new opportunities to make positive connections amid the closures, like one in Palos Verdes circulating a pledge to commit to social distancing, or another setting up an Instagram account for bored teens. So too, have teachers.

Hamilton High teacher Larry Shoham filmed a goofy rap video of himself, trying to grab attention of students who have yet to submit work, detailing pandemic history and coronavirus facts to a rah-rah-sis beat. “Please, I’m begging you, get started on your schoolwork,” it concludes.


The video also contained a survey asking students to agree or disagree with such statements as: “Coronavirus quarantine provides us with an opportunity to better understand ourselves” or, “There is no bright side to this pandemic,” and “This crisis has deepened my gratitude.”

The responses, Shoham said, have provoked compelling conversations via video conferencing about personal uncertainty during this public health crisis. While he is confident students of this generation will adapt to remote learning quickly given their familiarity with technology, feelings of isolation are already palpable.

“You just see this yearning for connection,” he said. “It’s one of those things where I think these students who have gone through this will come back to school with so much more gratitude for the educational experience we provide.”

Mental health centers, considered essential businesses during current stay-at-home orders, are answering calls for seeking assistance with anxiety, stress and depression. Many psychologists have reported switching to online contact.

For resources, the Los Angeles County Department of Mental Health can be contacted 24 hours a day, seven days a week at 800-854-7771 or text “home” to 741741 to be connected with a trained counselor. The CDC also issued stress and anxiety management tips during the coronavirus pandemic.

Handing out Google Chromebooks in a mask and gloves, Reseda High principal Melanie Welsh said she’s not too worried about the students who have yet to engage with their teachers online.

“I think we’re doing a good job of following up and certainly paying extra extra attention to our seniors,” she said, noting that senior prom, scheduled for May 31, is not yet canceled. “We’re having conversations with teachers about how students can be dealing with all kinds of things at home, like taking care of siblings.”

Anne Schmidt, a senior at Yucaipa High School, feels fine but has spent her spring break so far being overwhelmingly bored. She keeps in touch with friends on Facetime and is staying busy with board games.

“It’s just weird finishing up the last semester of high school online and having to stay home. It’s sad because we’ve always looked forward to senior activities,” she said, adding that she has had to become more self reliant academically.

“For math we just watch videos online, so we can’t ask teachers questions or interact much,” she said. “Learning online is different than anything I’ve ever experienced.”

Hilary Cooper said her two sons who attend Tesoro High in Orange County have been making ample skateboarding trips to a local middle school and taking a lot of long walks.

Akin to many teenagers, they are also playing quite a bit of video games with friends these days, using Instagram and Tik Tok to communicate with friends. “They’re doing fine for now,” she said.

Her older son, a senior, is posting a photo on his Instagram account every day which his friends would copy as a challenge, she said.

Tiffany Robinson Wilson, a teacher at Troy High in Fullerton, said she’s trying to have students work on assignments more as a group to combat feelings of isolation.

“They are lonely. They are not playing outside on basketball courts or at a slumber party,” Wilson said. “They’re at home, too.”

Source link