After the first week of eLearning, Hillsborough students miss the classroom

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Photo courtesy of Bences

On her computer, senior Alondra Bences works on assignments during the first week of eLearning. “To be honest, I try my best to be motivated and do work while trying to learn something but it’s hard at the same time because I can do an assignment and then five minutes later I won’t the finish the work and I’ll do something else and completely forget about my work,” Bences said. “In my opinion, I just feel like students won’t really do their work and it would be harder than it should be.”

First period Advanced Placement (AP) Spanish with Maria Gonzalez was like a family reunion. Constant chattering. Friendly faces. An atmosphere that could only be described as familiar. But senior Alondra Bences doesn’t get to be there anymore.

Hillsborough County Public Schools kicked off eLearning on Monday after a week of preparation. Instead of face-to-face classes, students have taken to Edsby and Zoom to finish the 2020 school year amid the novel coronavirus pandemic. After the dubbed “Set Up for Success Week,” county Superintendent Addison Davis was optimistic.  But according to a recent survey, 66 percent of responders from Hillsborough felt that the transition was rough.

According to students, most of this can be attributed to the absence of classes like Bences’s first period. Although students are getting the work, they aren’t getting the same face-to-face interaction that they’ve grown accustomed to since kindergarten.

“We all treated everyone like family, and we were always there for each other. I mean we still are but it’s just different now because we can’t see each other,” Bences said about her Spanish class. “I don’t like it. It’s not the same as just learning something and it’s horrible. Yeah, they might say that you have more time and you can do your assignments anytime you want but still, how are we supposed to learn like this?”

The first week of eLearning had both its share of successes and problems. Students were able to reconnect with their teachers and classmates over platforms like Zoom, but the week was also marked by Edsby crashes and lagging internet. As a result, students like Bences are skeptical of the new learning platform.

Last week, Hillsborough and other schools across the county distributed thousands of devices for students to use until education can safely return to the classroom.  In addition, Spectrum is providing free Wifi to households, so the platform is accessible to everyone. Ultimately, however, the major student concerns aren’t with the educational aspect, they’re with the lack of a community.

“Edsby is always bugging out in the mornings and takes a while to load. For example, yesterday I was trying to get onto Edsby to get a Zoom code for my math class, but it wouldn’t load in time, so I ended up joining 15 minutes after it started,” freshman Sheilind Alvarez said. “But really, I miss seeing my friends every day during lunch because that is when we would make the funniest memories. The energy isn’t the same on a Zoom call as it is in real life.”

But the added flexibility of an online schedule has had its benefits. Alvarez now has time to make breakfast in the morning before school and as a result, has been eating healthier. She also likes the autonomy of it. “I almost like it better than regular learning because I’m able to work at my own pace,” she said. “Personally, I’m more of an independent learner, so having the teachers give us the assignment at the beginning of the week and letting us have the rest of the week to work on it is my favorite part.”

And for students like sophomore Gabriella Feagle, the key to managing the transition to eLearning has been staying organized. Feagle uses a daily planner, and divides half of her time not on Zoom between schoolwork and staying connected to her friends. Like many others though, she still does miss seeing them in person. “I miss the interactions and conversations with my friends and fellow classmates along with a more hands-on learning experience,” she said.

As of now, all schools in Florida will remain closed due to the pandemic until May 1. Further announcements about the remaining month of school will be made later. For now, however, eLearning is here to stay.