As the first weeks of school come to an end, administrators, counselors, and other support staff continue their work to improve and adapt support services to overcome the obstacles that distance learning presents. The virtual College and Career Center (CCC) and Student Learning Center offer new, distanced versions of key resources for students seeking college counseling and other academic assistance.
One such adaption allows seniors to access college resources through their counselors, either during the counselor’s office hours or by setting up one-on-one sessions over email. Additional services provided by the virtual CCC include essay reading, Zoom college visits, and in-class presentations and workshops going over the application process. Tutoring and general academic support for all grades are available at the Virtual Student Learning Center after school. Zoom links and schedules for these services were sent out to all students through email and can also be found in the CCC calendar.
“Overall, it was a very helpful and easy to attend Zoom chat, and it’s a super nice offering from Berkeley High to have so many counselors with so many Zoom times to fit your schedule,” said Colin Steidtmann, a newly transferred senior at BHS, when describing his experience attending the virtual CCC.
One hurdle in distance learning to consider is “Zoom fatigue,” a phrase used to describe the tiring effect of coping with the limits to online social interactions. Picking up nuanced social cues that would be natural in person becomes more difficult and requires far more of your concentration through a screen. Additionally, many students feel overly conscious about what they look like to others, particularly in the uncomfortable setting of break-out rooms, which are often with people they have never met before. All of these factors take a toll on someone’s physical and emotional capacity. Jennifer Hammond, the college counselor for Academic Choice (AC) and Communication Arts and Sciences (CAS), cites “Zoom fatigue” as a detractor from the overall sense of community in the CCC.
Some BHS services have been specifically affected by the digital shift and the pandemic at large. As Mary Jacobs, an administrative assistant at the CCC, points out, the school’s ability to connect students to internships and other real-world job experiences have taken a substantial hit in the midst of an economic downturn. This lack of job opportunities will have the biggest impact on students who are relying on access to a stable income after graduating to pay for higher education or to support themselves.
Despite these challenges, some resources available to students have changed for the better, most notably college visits. Hammond explained that these visits have become far more accessible for students over Zoom. She also pointed out that the switch to online has given them an opportunity to adapt their presentations to a more modern technology called Pear Deck, which allows for a more interactive learning experience.
“We’re always working on ways to improve outreach,” said Jacobs. She has high hopes for the transition into virtual support, but says that “it’s too early to see a difference in student attendance.” Many of Jacobs’s statements were echoed by Hammond. However, Hammond notes that the environment of the CCC feels off, stating “it’s all business now.” The biggest casualty in the adjustment to distance learning has been the social aspect of the CCC, or, as Hammond described it, “the osmosis.” Without the option for students to drop in during lunch or meet up with friends, the CCC faces the unique challenge of losing its status as a social setting.