Holidays Bring Temporary Switch to Fully Remote Learning

     As the outbreak of the coronavirus progressed in Illinois and the number of students and teachers who were exposed to COVID shot up, Fenwick temporarily switched to fully remote learning from the end of Thanksgiving break to January 19. With this switch, Fenwick’s administration hoped to ensure the safety of everyone’s loved ones and allow students and faculty the opportunity to see family over the holidays. Since the initial introduction of hybrid learning this school year, Fenwick has put a significant amount of time and effort into ensuring the safety of everyone in the community.

     Previously, while students went fully remote, they were expected to log onto their classes every day. The schedule for the school’s most recent switch to remote learning, however, was different. Instead of having students attend all of their classes every day, there was a split block schedule. On Mondays and Wednesdays, students would log onto periods one through three; on Tuesdays and Thursdays, they would log onto periods seven/eight to eleven. All classes were extended to fifty five minutes with an hour long lunch break. On Fridays, some classes met and some did not depending on the teacher. Classes on Fridays were only thirty minutes long, allotting students more time to complete their assignments. In order to further reduce the students’ stress-loads, Fenwick also cancelled formal final testing for first semester.

     While faculty did their best to reduce any preventable stressors during this e-learning transition, fully remote learning naturally presented some challenges. It wasn’t always easy for students to complete everything on their iPads. Occasionally, a student’s Wi-Fi wouldn’t be working and they would miss a Zoom call, or their iPad would simply die. Despite these setbacks, students gradually learned to adapt and keep up with their schoolwork. Meanwhile, teachers adapted to be more flexible, many giving their students extra time to complete assignments. 

     Sophomore Angelina Squeo details her experience of remote learning, stating that remote learning has “definitely changed the way I learn, but I’ve been maintaining good grades. It hasn’t drastically changed my academic habits, per se, but it has changed my work ethic and routine for sure.” Angelina continues, “For me, it’s been quite stressful mainly because of finals week and also having so many papers and projects due which takes up a lot of time. I think the most difficult thing for me, however, is just not being able to physically see my friends and communicate with teachers. It’s hard when you’re cooped up in your room all day on Zoom; it can get mentally draining.”

     On top of the academic stress students may feel, many also deal with the mental challenges of being remote. In fact, a study done by the CDC shows adolescents aged 12-17 made up the highest proportion of children’s mental health related problems during the pandemic. Fenwick’s social worker Ms. Winkler provides insight as to why remote learning can spark these problems: “In my opinion, students seem to be struggling with isolation and feel that the hybrid schedule lacks consistency. It can be hard for students to transition from eLearning to being in school multiple times a week, but I do think that it is important that students are in the building with their peers as much as possible if they can be. Even small amounts of social connection can make all the difference. The administration has worked hard to make sure that we can provide the best learning environment possible during the pandemic!” 

     Remote learning is challenging both mentally and academically; however, it has ultimately allowed the community to learn adaptability and to find new ways to stay connected while continuing to keep the community safe and healthy. Ms. Winkler sends a reminder to anyone struggling during remote learning: “please try to grant yourself some grace. This is all temporary and it will get better. Lean on your friends and family for support, reach out to your social worker or counselor, and ask for help if you need it! Everyone struggles and goes through tough times, but Fenwick is a family and we are here to support each other. Remember: you are SO loved, you are valuable, and your worth is not measured by your productivity.”