Being away from school and navigating distance learning has been tough for many students, especially those who don't have internet connectivity or electronic devices at home.
"It's been stressful. I haven't done any work," said South High School senior Jorge Maese. Having only his smartphone available, he's tried to access school assignments online, but a small screen and distractions from social media makes completing assignments challenging.
Ever since Kern County public schools began preparing for closures in March because of coronavirus concerns, administrators have had to consider that many Kern County households do not have electronic devices or internet connectivity. An estimated 40 percent of children fall in that category, according to the Kern County Superintendent of Schools, which makes switching to an online-only learning system difficult.
Upon assessing the resources available online, however, districts have started providing electronic devices for their students.
This week, schools in the Kern High School District began distributing Chromebooks to students to get them "back in the classroom" and connected with their teachers. The district is also equipping school buses with WiFi and parking them in various locations in the county for 30 minutes. School sites also offer connectivity from parking lots.
"I've had no motivation since I've been home ... I need this Chromebook," Maese said as he picked up his device Tuesday morning. He added his house has internet service so he could get started on schoolwork immediately.
John Goetjen, assistant principal of instruction at South, said around 525 students out of nearly 2,250 have said they need a Chromebook at home. Additionally, one in six students don't have access to internet connectivity.
During the first two weeks of school closures, South provided paper packets from each class for pick-up and the same materials available online through Google Classroom. Teachers have also been utilizing Zoom, a video conferencing application, emailing and calling students.
"Throughout all of this, the question we're asking is what's best for the kids?" Goetjen said.
With many lacking electronic devices, teachers have noticed a drop in students turning in assignments. In Kelsey Coleman's college prep U.S. history class, about 20 percent of students have been turning in work, while 95 percent have been doing so in her Advanced Placement class.
Motivation could be a contributing factor, but connectivity is most likely a culprit as well. Now that devices have become available, she expects numbers to rise.
"It's been pretty hard to learn by yourself," said South sophomore Oscar Islas. "I can now use Zoom to contact teachers."
Virtual tutoring is also available in several subjects.
Chromebooks will continue to be distributed throughout the week. Parents and students should contact their respective school sites with questions.
School closures are scheduled to last through at least May 1.