When schools abruptly had to make the switch to distance learning in the spring, many thought it would only last a few weeks.
Then it stretched on for another month, until ultimately the remainder of the school year. But things would go back to normal in the fall, right?
If the decisions of the Bakersfield City and Kern High school districts regarding the reopening of schools in the fall indicate anything — both voted to begin the year online — it's that distance learning is firmly in place for the time being.
Gov. Gavin Newsom also announced Friday public schools can physically open when its county has been off the state's COVID-19 monitoring list for 14 days. Schools that don't meet the requirement must begin the year distance learning.
Robert Meszaros, communications director for the Kern County Superintendent of Schools, said the guidance is welcome, and given that the county has been teetering on being on the watchlist, it's likely school districts that have proposed limited in-person learning will have to change direction.
As expected, stakeholders are mixed on the distance learning issue.
"I’m a little bit nervous (heading into the fall) because the spring was by itself difficult to manage due to the variability among teachers," said Stockdale High School senior Ishaan Brar.
TEACHERS LOOK BACK
No teacher knew how well distance learning would work in the spring.
A lot was up in the air, said April Davis, a third-grade teacher at McKinley Elementary School, but she tried connecting with students frequently.
Davis was able to virtually meet with half of her students last semester, which was "successful" compared to many other teachers who could only connect with a handful of students, she said.
There are some nerves starting school online, like not being able to meet families and students and figuring out ways she'll teach important skills, but teaching virtual summer school has helped her prepare. Different tools allow her to share her screen with students, which will help with lessons. Increased communication will also be critical moving forward.
Distance learning was fairly smooth for Golden Valley High School math teacher Hector Leonzo. He's been integrating online components to his classes for five years now, by having students complete homework online, and uploading videos of his lectures to his YouTube channel.
Once schools closed in mid-March, Leonzo said his students picked up where they left off. He also offered one-on-one virtual meetings with students for extra help.
"My students were actually engaged," he said.
Distance learning also seemed to click with "ghost students," said Tamara Clark, a Bakersfield High School math teacher. These students don't show up to class consistently, are not prepared for lessons and are oftentimes failing.
Clark said with online learning they were able to go at their own pace, which she said "gives them an increased sense of empowerment."
Both, however, noticed students "check out" once it was announced grades would switch over to a pass/no pass system. This time around, letter grades will return, and Leonzo believes that will hold both students and teachers accountable.
‘NOT A VIABLE OPTION’
Katelyn Montalvo has five children — in grades kindergarten, first, second, fourth and sixth — who will juggle distance learning this fall.
Keeping up with all their schoolwork last spring was a challenge, given her and her husband worked full time. She wasn't able to connect with teachers because she'd get home after the school day ended, and her children's Zoom meetings weren't very productive.
Doing it all over again this fall? No, thank you, she said.
"Distance learning solely is not a viable option for my family," she said. "I do not have enough time to work and teach five different grade levels as well as feed my kids a healthy homemade meal and keep them on a strict schedule so they get enough sleep for their day."
If she had a choice, she would send her children back to school.
Parents of high schoolers also saw the stress their children were under. Sarah Kirschner described her Independence High School sophomore as being "overwhelmed" by the amount of work teachers gave her and the time frame she had to turn it in by. She also felt "a little lost and unclear" on some of the assignments.
Other parents found the experience enjoyable, some even hoping online learning is here to stay.
By helping his fifth-grader complete work, David Blaz was able to learn his child's strength and weaknesses. His teaching style differed from what the teacher did, so there were some issues, but they found a middle ground and worked through distance learning packets.
Heather Torres also saw her junior at Foothill High School excel. Her son has attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and is easily distracted in school. At home, Torres said they set up a schedule to make sure work was completed, along with making time for relaxing activities.
Getting involved and communicating was key, she said.
"I think the most important thing for parents is being able to reach out to teachers or whoever they need to reach out so they can effectively help their child instead of both of them getting frustrated," Torres said.
STUDENT WISH LIST
As students prepare for another iteration of distance learning, they would like to see some changes.
Jenna Billington, a Frontier High School senior, wants the amount of work to cut down. During the first few weeks of distance learning, keeping up with assignments was fine. But all of a sudden, work started piling up, and on top of her assignments, she had to help her four younger siblings complete theirs.
More reliable communication with teachers is another area that needs improvement, and live lessons would help greatly.
"I’m a visual learner. (My teacher) did videos and it actually helped a lot more than just reading," she explained.
Brar also hopes there can be more consistency among teachers. Many different methods were used to teach — watching videos, writing notes down from presentations or just submitting work — and at times it was tough to keep track.
Making expectations clear from the beginning could also make for more success among students, he suggested.
Meszaros said when schools closed in March, "we were caught flat-footed and teaching and learning suffered." However, due to expectations set forth by Newsom, "We believe our districts are in a much better place now to implement a much more quality and robust distance learning program."