School Closure

As of 3/19, Helena High has closed its doors, and now sets an unprecedented time, as the pandemic COVID-19 has affected all areas of life, from toilet paper to restaurants, and now school. The district site’s remote learning introduction is starting today. After a few rushed updates and teacher’s emails, somehow students are expected to pull off a massive transition into online schooling, having known about it for only four days. Seventy percent of schools across the country are closed, and millions of students now have to navigate course material from school-issued Chromebooks, phones, or whatever else we can find. 

 From patching together teachers’ emails, there are already glaring inconsistencies; services like Outlook and Clever use a school email, but some teachers will use Google classroom or other sites entirely that require a completely different login and email. Looking to find one assignment for math class took fifteen minutes and seven different tabs open.

 Sophomore Malen Helgeson had a similar experience. “The way school is set up right now is rushed,” Helgeson said. “I wish the school system would take more time to prepare and allow students time to get prepared as well. The change is very drastic.”

 With so little consistency, it seems that we will have a different system every hour. According to 2019 census estimates, only 87% of Helena’s population has a household computer, and 79% have a broadband WiFi connection. Income, family size, and location are some of the infinite other scenarios that may limit a student’s access to online schooling. Our solution, lending Chromebooks, is only a drop in the leaking bucket of remote learning. Admin firewalls block school Chromebooks to home printers and sign out all information after each session. This is more than just a slight annoyance; it will be a disaster of lost saves and hours wasted trying to find every site for every class, only to be wiped clean if the computer falls asleep during a lunch break. 

The institution of online school demands an operational platform, communication, and time that Helena students have not gotten. Former HHS student Tori Haggerty has been doing online school with the Penn Foster program for the past three semesters. “At the beginning it was awful. I couldn’t find anything. [The site] was just dense text in 5 font,” Haggerty said. Even after switching to a different software, she still wouldn’t recommend it. “My days blend together. I don’t know what day of the week it is right now,” Haggerty said.

I have to say, writing this from the notes app of my iPhone has been a low point in my academic career. It’s too late to design a perfect online school, but somehow we have to find a way to share information better throughout the closure. Sifting through different emails, parent’s notifications, and pouring over the school announcements has been, at best, inefficient. Hopefully, within the next few days, there will be some semblance of a routine.

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