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BUSD Aims to Combat Flaws In Distance Learning

Since the release of Berkeley Unified School District’s Distance Learning Plan, the reality of what school looks like has changed dramatically.

As Term 4 begins and students find their footing in online school, plans for the spring semester are slowly taking form. Since the release of the Berkeley Unified School District (BUSD) Distance Learning Plan, the reality of what school looks like has changed dramatically compared to before the pandemic. Now that students and staff of Berkeley High School (BHS) have gotten into the swing of school through Zoom, questions have arisen about the coming semester and what lies ahead in terms of online learning. 

This week, athletes from many different BHS sports have been invited back to campus to train and condition. Following community guidelines, sports teams will practice either outside at a distance, or inside a gym, with masks required at all times. 

“This is really our first group of students that are on campus, and what this is doing for us is it’s teaching us a lot about what it takes to bring students back,” said BHS Principle Juan Raygoza. 

Due to the pandemic, many students have felt a lack of connection with their peers. In response, Raygoza and other BHS staff hope the reopening of the athletic department will bring students together. 

“Not being able to be on campus is really hard because a lot of [students] are just waking up and going to sleep every night and not interacting with any friends or with adults other than their family members,” explained Raygoza. With the athletic department returning in person, further opportunities for connection are available. “[Students are] able to see their teammates and they’re able to connect with them, even if it’s from six feet apart,” said Raygoza.

For the upcoming spring semester, many students, faculty, and families are questioning whether there will be a return to in-person learning. With Alameda County’s new announcement about the possibility of high schools reopening, the shift away from distance learning has been on the minds of many in the BHS community.

Many students are finding it hard to make wholesome connections with their peers over Zoom. In breakout rooms, many students do not speak or interact. This can create a feeling of loneliness for some, which can make online school more difficult to attend.

“As far as changes [for] the second semester, I think we’re hoping to really try to push more social and emotional learning … and if it is safe and we can work out the logistics, we want to try to find ways for students to return to campus in the way that athletics is currently doing,” said Raygoza. 

Because of the lack of class time during distance learning, many teachers are finding it difficult to adequately prepare students for tests to the fullest extent. For Advanced Placement (AP) and International Baccalaureate (IB) teachers, the already accelerated curriculum is proving to be tricky to squish in such a short amount of time.

Aaron Glimme, an AP Chemistry teacher, has felt the strain that the Distance Learning plan puts on a class. “One of our more challenging units of the year is the stoichiometry unit. We had two weeks to cover that. In a normal year, we will cover that in four weeks. That is a very substantial difference,” he said. 

Preparation for AP and IB tests has had to change drastically due to this lack of time. A substantial amount of what used to be mandatory preparation material has become optional because of the tight schedule. 

“There is a certain body of content that I’m supposed to get through to prepare [students] for the AP test. … We are working to try and give students opportunities to review and go over things in off terms, but it is still a challenge to get through everything at a reasonable rate,” explained Glimme.

While this year has turned out very different from many in the past, students and staff at BHS are making an effort to create quality education. Whether the school goes back in person in the spring or continues online, students and staff will face the challenges of the ongoing pandemic together.

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