By: Jack Doyle and Kieran Fitzgerald
On July 21, 2020, Montgomery County Public Schools announced that all learning will take place virtually for the entirety of the first semester due to the Coronavirus pandemic. As the word spread, students, teachers, and staff were all deeply affected by this news. After March 13th, the 2019-2020 school year was also virtual, in a manner students, teachers, and staff remember as quite unorganized and difficult to manage. There were multiple platforms where assignments were posted, no Zoom schedule, and either very little work or far too much, according to students.
This year, MCPS provided a detailed daily schedule and plan for this unusual new learning environment. This schedule includes strict Zoom meeting times with certain class periods, a lunch break, and Baron Time for students to receive help from teachers. With this new structure and routine, students’ mental health can be affected in both negative and positive ways.
On the positive side, many students feel that there is more time for leisure in their lives. B-CC senior Zubaida Lien said that some students along with herself “feel like they have more time to do other things and that a weight has been lifted off their shoulders.” This is beneficial for students in many ways. The current online school schedule states that first period doesn’t start until 9:00am. This is quite different from the at school bell schedule which had students trudging to first period in an exhausted haze at 7:45 a.m. Jacob Mrose, a senior at B-CC, explained that he feels that “students are getting more sleep, which is good.” Sleep is crucial for a stable mind and body, and these extra few hours of sleep are beneficial for high schoolers’ state of mind and development.
Although online schools may have its upsides, there are many ways it can negatively affect students.
“The negatives of online school are feeling lonely, having difficult family dynamics, and technical difficulties of locating assignments. This seems to be increasing some people’s stress. I think it can be difficult to get motivated when you are working from home,” said Glennon Gordon, a family and individual psychotherapist in the Bethesda area.
These are things that many high school students are experiencing all throughout B-CC and the country. Being at home with no one else to socialize with can be very lonely for many high schoolers. This is the case with B-CC junior, Phoebe Hall, who says that she thinks “online school may worsen the mental health of students, since we’re used to seeing tons of people at school between classes and at lunch, but now we can’t even see our closest friends—which is a very hard adjustment.” Students are not used to online school yet either and any of them are having trouble keeping track of their assignments. Hayden Brooker, a junior at B-CC, said that “online school is negatively affecting [him] because of connectivity issues, as well as difficulty navigating the MyMCPS portal to find assignments, and turning them in on time.”
B-CC students and those across the country are trying to get through their problems of having limited socialization with others, and issues with the format of online school by using their “mindfulness breaks” to their advantage. The county has implemented a lot of break time for students to disconnect from their computers to go outside and socialize with their family and friends; the new schedule allows students 15 mins in between classes as a break as well as an hour and 15 minute lunch break. Additionally, on Wednesdays, students have the opportunity to check in with teachers and catch up on any missing assignments or ask any questions they have about class. With a lot of time to get outside and away from computers, students are taking full advantage of their breaks. B-CC Senior Fia Pineda, said “I’m making sure to stay busy and and capitalize on my non-screen time by doing other things outside of school with other people (safely with masks and socially distant) like going on runs, going to work and even just going on walks with a friend during lunch.”
Overall students are trying their best to stay on top of work while trying to keep their sanity in this time of unrest. Students and staff are collaborating to come up with solutions to the outstanding issues that the online school format faces. Although there are some benefits that online school provides, it is evident that it can cause many mental health issues. It is important for students to take the steps necessary to protect mental health and maintain a positive mental state as winter is looming. We must all remember to follow the guidelines given to us by the government in order to slow the spread of the virus. Hopefully, the Baron community of teachers, staff, and students will be united in person at some point in the coming months.