MILLBURN, NJ — Friday, March 20 marked the end of the first week of distance learning across Millburn Township Public Schools. Due to the rapid spread of COVID-19, the initial two weeks quarantine planned by the Board of Education has been extended indefinitely.
In her update letter on Friday, Superintendent Dr. Christine Burton cited Governor Murphy’s Executive Order that all New Jersey schools remain closed until the government decides it is safe for students to return to school. Without a return date in sight, it is now clear that distance learning will be in effect for at least the near future.
Students of Millburn High School rely on Google Classroom to receive daily assignments. In addition to completing a quick question daily for teachers to mark attendance, students complete a classroom-style assignment. Whether this be writing a paragraph or completing textbook problems, students are staying on track with the curriculum.
To further mimic the classroom experience, teachers also post assignments accompanied with notes and are available to answer student questions through email. Though it is not required, some teachers even teach lessons and answer questions orally through platforms like Zoom or Google Hangouts.
Several students at Millburn High School spoke with TAPinto Millburn/Short Hills, and gave their opinions about the new way of learning.
“All of my teachers are definitely trying to stay on top of the curriculum and answer any questions that their students have, which I really appreciate,” said Prisha Mehta.
Understandably, the transition has been difficult for some students. For example, students must now take the initiative to teach themselves the material, using whatever resources their teachers have provided.
“The interaction in the classroom environment is invaluable and cannot be simply replaced by technology,” Jessie Rievman said.
Fellow student Jenny Wang expanded on Rievman's opinion. “There is a downside with classes like math, just because it’s hard for teachers to walk us through questions and verbally explain things and answer questions without a whiteboard,” she said.
Another difficulty students have faced has been creating a routine. Without the bells and set time periods of school, students are now responsible for setting their own schedules.
“The biggest thing about online school for me is the power to totally control my schedule,” Henry Josephson said, “that’s a double-edged sword, because, while I can take breaks whenever I want, it can be difficult to stay on track and motivate myself.”
With the power to control their own schedules, students have also received a great deal more freedom with their time. One word that came up repetitively after speaking with many students was the benefit of “flexibility.” The “flexibility” extends to both academics and mental health.
“I like being able to learn at my own pace and having a lot more time to complete my assignments,” Alex Karch said.
“With online school, I have a lot more time to focus on myself. I’ve worked out three days in a row and I get a full eight hours of sleep!... Overall, I’m a lot less stressed,” Natalie Ho said
Stress levels do seem to be down for many students, but Anusha Veluri also worried about how distance learning would impact student health in the long term.
“Physically going to school, and coming back home, that creates a healthy divide between education and family time," Veluri said. "Now, when I finish my assignments and go downstairs for lunch it just feels like more school.”
Josh Warner also brought up concerns about mental health, specifically relating to a lack of human interaction.
“I don’t like that we don’t get to see our friends, classmates, and teachers as I think learning is more complete in the physical school environment than online,” Warner said.
Additionally, there are worries about Advanced Placement exams, especially among upperclassmen. These exams are run by the College Board, which announced today that a plan was being developed for students to test at home.
Despite worries, however, it’s clear that there are both negative and positive results from distance learning. The system is evolving every day to better suit student and teacher needs and parents are updated regularly on progress by Dr. Burton.
As Mehta said, “Online learning isn't my favorite, but considering that we don't have any other option, it really isn't too bad.”