Distance learning brings out the best in our students and teachers

Dr. Paula Vickers, Adviser

In 30 years of teaching, I’ve seen a lot of things, but if, a year ago, someone had said that by mid-March the schools would be closed, I would have never believed it.

But they did shut down and our teachers had to make a major paradigm shift. We had no warning, no training, and no expertise in distance learning, but we did, as true educators do, embrace the challenge. We set up our eCampus or Google Classrooms within the span of a week, making our curriculum available to our students. Some of us were more comfortable with the new format than others, but we all did our best to make our students feel at home online, just as we had always done in our classrooms.

Our students had gone home for Spring Break with no idea that they would not be returning to their brick and mortar schools for the rest of the entire school year. Think about that- especially for our seniors. You say goodbye to your teachers and classmates and then you find out that you may never get to see them in person again. None of us could have prepared for that. And I’ll admit, it hasn’t been easy. I’ve spent the majority of my life working with kids, my kids, and as much as I have struggled to be away from them, my heart aches for what they have lost. But I also rejoice in what they’ve gained. They have learned firsthand how to adapt very quickly to unexpected change. They have learned that even small actions on their part (such as social distancing) can have an impact on the community around them. They have learned that they can make a difference.

Fast forward nine weeks and here we are, still distance learning, and approaching the end of the school year. It’s been different. It’s been difficult. But it’s been doable. The resolve of our students astounds me. They have stepped up in a big way and made it work. Of my class load, I teach one section of seniors and since this pandemic has started, their emotions have ranged from sadness and depression to acceptance and resolve. They’ve learned to interact remotely via Webex, FaceTime, eCampus, Google Meets, and a number of other ways. Though they have lost so much, including Prom, Grad Nite, Senior Picnic, and just plain hanging out with their friends at lunch and between classes, they have also gained something very important- perspective.

Very soon, the school year will end and our seniors will officially graduate. In Seminole County, we are planning to will hold our graduation ceremonies sometime in June on each schools’ respective football fields. It takes me back about 35 years ago when I graduated on the football field of Seminole High School. It was in June as well, hot and humid, with a gentle hint of breeze. The thought of graduating in the UCF Arena was far in the future. Back then it was simple. We marched one by one across a wooden platform; the stadium filled with our family and friends.

This year the Class of 2020 will do the same and when they walk across the platform I hope each of them will hold their head high knowing that they will be the first (and hopefully the only) class to have finished school remotely, independently, during a pandemic. They, like the rest of our students from kindergarten through high school, have persevered, worked hard, and finished the school year triumphantly.