Education Gets a New Face

The transition from in-person to online schooling has affected 1.5 billion children worldwide – a number that constitutes 87 percent of the globe’s student population, a recent Washington Post article reports. In just a matter of days, public school educators and administrators scrambled to navigate a new course of instruction via Google Classroom, video conferencing, and online communication. Students, teachers, and administration were no longer sharing a common physical space or learning environment. At Morris Hills, teachers and students have had different approaches and experiences to adapting to the new virtual mode of education. 

The MHRD Google Suite proved to be helpful in the transition to virtual learning. Because Google Classroom had already been set up in the MHRD district, teachers could continue to make announcements to their classes, post assignments and discussion boards, and even take attendance. Applications like Google Meet allowed video-conferencing, which allowed teachers to set up times to talk to their students in real time. 

There are, however, several drawbacks to virtual learning. Señora Bailey teaches Spanish at Morris Hills. After the switch to online learning, she found that one of the biggest challenges she was faced with in online teaching was “keeping in contact with all of her students.” She misses being with her students and “sharing stories, talking about upcoming events, and communicating in-person.” Señora Bailey stresses that especially in “language acquisition, it is so important to build conversations and collaboration skills.”  With online learning, there have been varying levels of student engagement. While some students are able to maintain a diligent work ethic in the face of changing circumstances, others might not be able to stay dedicated to school because they are juggling multiple responsibilities, including schoolwork, part-time jobs, and taking care of family members. During regular school instruction, it was easier for students to stay focused on  a particular subject, at least while they were in the classroom and surrounded by learning materials, teachers, and fellow students. However, with virtual interaction, fostering candid interactions with classmates and teachers is a bit more difficult, and can result in less overall student-teacher interaction. 

Another unprecedented change brought forth through the global pandemic was that AP exams were administered online for the first time. The College Board cut the exam times and re-formatted the exams in an attempt to still accurately assess students’ understanding of a subject. Tests were shortened to 45 minutes and the content covering the test was reduced, as well. Multiple choice was eliminated entirely and replaced with either one or two free response questions, depending on the subject. Additionally, because COVID-19 disrupted in-person schooling nationwide around late February/early March, most AP teachers had not fully covered the syllabus required to complete the AP exams. Educators had to adjust their teaching styles to online instruction, all while understanding the new format of the AP tests and preparing their students to master this new online version. When asked about the change to AP exams, Pavan Eda, a junior at Morris Hills, said “AP exams just hit differently this year. I was lucky to have teachers like Mr. Bermel and Mr. Ellis, and many others, who covered a lot of the content required. I was in good shape and felt confident about the change.” Others expressed differing opinions, such as Dennis Milazzo who admitted he was “a bit hesitant heading into my exams. I was kind of unsure of what to expect because we spent most of the year preparing for a certain type of test, only to have a drastic change all of a sudden. In the end, though, I think I did fine.” 

With the uncertainty lying ahead, Morris Hills is taking procedures to prepare for the start of  school in September. The administration is also looking for ways to open the school and have students learn in a COVID-free environment. Ultimately, the state of New Jersey must allow for schools to open, and Morris Hills can take steps accordingly. Regardless, this experience of virtual learning has prepared the Morris Hills community for the future and ensured a stable learning environment.