High school teachers remain virtually supportive

Exeter High School teachers try to keep students on-task until in-person instruction returns from teens

By Tony Salzar
Special to The Sun-Gazette

EXETER – Teaching virtually is not the same as teaching in person, especially for educators who teach in media arts. The work that Andrea Venegas, a media arts teacher at Exeter Union High School, has been doing exemplifies the challenge that many other educators around the world are also facing as they virtually teach classes that were naturally meant to be taught in-person.

Venegas teaches six courses of photography and video at Exeter Union High School, with one of those being an advanced class, where students collaboratively work together on the school’s student-run weekly newscast, ESN (Exeter Student News), which airs on YouTube. Doing this in the midst of a global pandemic had Venegas and her students’ worried at first.

“At the beginning, students were really struggling with the online content,” said Venegas. “The students earned more F’s than ever.”

Most of the concern began in March when the Exeter Unified School District abruptly made the transition to virtual learning under guidance from the governor. While Exeter’s elementary campuses have reopened to in-person instruction on Nov. 5, students at Exeter Union High School are still attending classes virtually with teachers providing instruction via Zoom and Google Classroom. Although not everyone is in favor of this new model of learning, Exeter Union High School senior Ethan Hernandez, who is the Senior Editor for the student-run newscast, Exeter Student News, says transitioning to virtual learning has been challenging.

“It’s really hard to learn because some people would rather be in-person instead of virtual,” Hernandez said. “Sometimes I just like to be alone in the house. I get a lot of free time. But with all this free time, I feel like I just procrastinate way too much on my homework and all that stuff.”

Rather than teachers reminding students to complete their coursework, it is now the responsibility of students to keep abreast of assignments.

“And that’s a challenge that most of our kids do not have. That skill set, to be able to manage your time and be productive with the time that they have,” Child Psychologist Miguel Sanchez said.

Rather than procrastinating, Sanchez recommends students to set a daily schedule, so they can stay on top of their assignments.

Assistant Principal Kari Bejar said another obstacle EUHS teachers have to overcome is rewriting their curriculum—from A to Z.

“They’re having to not only rework in-class activities to a distant learning activity but also learn the technology of recording lectures and direct instruction,” Bejar said.

Notwithstanding, Venegas burns the midnight oil as she rewrites her curriculum and teaches her four classes virtually two times a week. Nonetheless, she continues to work tirelessly from home where her three daughters are also attending Exeter schools online, so she understands firsthand the many challenges for parents supporting their children’s virtual learning.

“[Teachers] are still trying to play catch up, and then you see this Facebook message that says, ‘I think we should take the teacher’s salary away and give it to us parents at home.’ And it’s just like a punch in the gut—it’s tough,” said Venegas. “We would all rather be there [on campus], but we have to make the best with what we’ve been given and if we could all work together man; it’s just so much easier on everybody.”

Despite the upheaval transition to learning, Venegas remains optimistic and reminds students that virtual instruction has its benefits.

“I think the organizational skills they are getting out of it are huge. I think that part is really going to help them as they go into college and their career,” said Venegas.

Among these critical skills that students are learning, Sanchez invites parents to give praise to their students with words of encouragment, patting them on the back, and offering rewards and incentives such as a special treat as they continue online learning, something many of them have never done before.

“So offer a lot of praise and a lot of support,” Sanchez said. “And, I’ll be honest with you, scolding, you can try, but it’s not the best approach.”

While students in grades kindergarten through fifth have been allowed to return to school on a limited schedule with COVID-19 procedures in place, Mayo said the district is continuously coordinating efforts on a plan to bring the majority of students to middle and high school. Mayo said he wants students and parents to continue to remain positive in hopes of coming back to campus.

“We all need to just show grace to each other as we do this. And I think that if we, collaboratively and as a unified group, work to take whatever measures are necessary to help get us back to school as soon as possible,” said Mayo. “Let’s look and take those measures and not be so critical of what they are.”

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