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BHS Should Maintain Some Elements of Distance Learning This Fall

The distance learning model included later start times and increased empathy, both choices that benefit students and should remain in place.

As the 2020-21 school year rolls to an end after crashing, burning, and just generally sucking to a magnificent degree, we look towards the next year at Berkeley High School (BHS). Students all over the country and the world eagerly await a normal school year of social interaction, lunch periods, fire alarms, rally days, and general jubilation and joy! 

But wait — hold on a second. Most agree that in-person school was better than distance learning, but was it really all that good? How about the constant sleep deprivation? How about the pressure to look good everyday? Do you remember when you actually had to get out of bed to attend your biology class?

Human beings have a tendency to romanticize things, particularly when the situation they’re in at the present moment is worse than it was before. And that’s okay to a certain extent, but it’s necessary to remember that in-person school wasn’t perfect, and students should try to hold onto some of the initial excitement that came with online learning. Online learning has certainly been rough, but when we return to school in person next year, there are a few things we should retain and transfer to in-person school. 

This year was perhaps the first that BHS students actually got enough sleep. Studies have shown that teens need 8 to 10 hours of sleep a night to be happy and healthy, and that was made possible this year, as start time was moved to 9:15 AM and the commute to school was eliminated. Before the 1970s, high schools all over the US started at about 9:00 AM, a reasonable time that gave plenty of room for sleep as was befitting a teen’s needs. Schools only shifted to earlier hours because of budgeting cuts — earlier start times coinciding with elementary school start times resulted in more efficient use of school buses. Just because 8:27 AM is our status quo does not mean it’s that way for a good reason or should be kept when we return next year. 

While Zoom has lost its charm after a year of distance learning, it is a very valuable tool that should continue to be used long into next year. Zoom allows one to do many things that are simply not possible in person, such as talking to people all over the world or doing class in bed. One specific function that Zoom should be kept for is zero period labs, which further exacerbate lack of sleep and create tricky transportation issues for those reliant on parents or siblings to drive them to school.

One final thing that should be kept from distance learning is the increased humanity of the community. Everybody has become more forgiving and understanding of others in this time of political instability, racial injustice, and deadly viruses. As students and teachers alike peer into each other’s lives through the computer screen, we have all become a little more relaxed about tardiness, late assignments, tests, and the aspects of school that generally produce so much stress for students. Teachers have recognized that students have complex and often difficult lives outside of school and have acknowledged, perhaps for the first time, that school sometimes isn’t the most important thing in a person’s life.

This has been a year of great strife and disaster, but also a year of great elasticity and learning. We must retain some of that elasticity and be willing to change the status quo in order to improve our school environment and students’ lives.