Benicia teachers and students work together during COVID-19 pandemic to succeed at distance education

The Benicia High School graduating class of 2020 is concerned they will not get to participate in a graduation ceremony. Ideas are in the works for a potential virtual ceremony.

Benicia Herald, by Emma Goularte, April 8, 2020
Emma Goularte is editor of the Benicia Paw and a member of the Benicia High School graduating class of 2020. She is currently working on an internship at the Benicia Herald.
The Benicia High School graduating class of 2020 is concerned they will not get to participate in a graduation ceremony. Ideas are in the works for a potential virtual ceremony.

Last week Gov. Gavin Newsom announced that schools will be physically closed until the end of the school year.

“While schools might be physically closed, class is still in session,” he said. “This agreement is good news for students and parents, and the announcement means that more Calif. kids will have tools to learn at home during this crisis.”

Distance learning was made possible for Benicia schools after the high school and middle school received chromebooks at the beginning of the year to ensure the 1:1 learning ratio. These devices make learning outside the classroom possible with multiple outlets that are being used to continue educating students.

“It’s definitely uncharted territory for us as teachers but luckily for Benicia we have a really fantastic pool of teachers who have done an excellent job adjusting and providing a great variety of activities and enriching learning experiences,” said Benicia High School teacher Kristen Grubbs.

Teachers continue to post assignments and hold office hours online to make the transition between classroom and distance learning seamless as possible.

“I miss my students daily but we live in an age of technology where it is still relatively simple to connect through online classrooms and video chats,” said Bay Christian School teacher Jaime Freisen. “I’m trying my best to accommodate each of them, their various learning levels, and still provide the best education I can remotely.”

Although this has not been an easy adjustment, school time will not be added on to the end of the year going into summer. However, a lot has been lost for graduating seniors – losing milestone events with the fear there will be no graduation.

“It is an awful decision to have to make because the lives of so many students are being disrupted and so many precious senior memories taken away,” said BHS parent and Benicia Planning Commission Chair Kari Birdseye. “However, it is absolutely the right decision to keep our community safe. And our teachers have done a phenomenal job at continuing coursework online. While these times are difficult for all of us, we are saving lives by staying home. And we will all be stronger for it.”

School counselors are reaching out to students to make sure they know how they are feeling is normal and they have someone to talk to.

“I do think it’s the best decision for the wellness of our town and nation, but it really sucks because there were so many things I was looking forward to this year,” said Benicia High School senior Richard Mealey. “My senior prom, grad night, graduation, my senior baseball season, and so much more. It’s a horrible situation, but I think we are handling it the best we can and I think it’s the right thing to be doing.”

This situation has never happened before and it is important to remember that no one has to go through it alone. Benicia High School Principal Brianna Kleinschmidt has reached out to the class of 2020 multiple times in an attempt to provide support for students and to make sure the graduating class gets to enjoy milestone activities.

She ensures that she will do all she can and that a graduation will be held as soon as social gatherings are allowed, but that may look different as well. Word is the administration is sharing ideas on how to hold graduation, with the potential for a virtual ceremony.

“I miss the routine that being in school provides,” said Grubbs. “I miss seeing my students, athletes, and co-workers. I’m sad for the seniors that had their last year cut short and had many senior activities put to the side. However, I feel that situations like we are in now provide us with time to look beyond ourselves, look at our individual priorities, and realize we are all part of a bigger societal entity.”

In high school a lot of students are taking AP classes and at the end of the year students are supposed to take the AP test for that class. When school was first released, many worried about the test and how students could take it if they weren’t present, considering it is a handwritten, hours-long test.

College Board, is “the College Entrance Examination Board to expand access to higher education.” In regular language, College Board offers college prep classes and by taking these classes you can earn college credits by how well you do on the test.

Due to school closures and social distancing, College Board is recreating the test so it can be taken at home. There will be two dates for students to take the tests and the test will only include the material learned in class up until March. Anything students learn online will not be on the test and it will be shortened as much as possible due to some of the material not being taught in school.

During this time colleges are being very understanding because this is uncharted territory and it is a stressful time. Many colleges are reaching out to potential students for 2020 and reassuring them that the fourth quarter of their senior year will not be counted. During this time, the work that is being assigned to students is mandatory, but colleges understand that there are different circumstances for everyone and they don’t want it to count against students.

This situation is stressful, but teachers and administration are doing everything they can to make the transition smooth. Since the school closure, everyone has been very helpful and supportive of students.

“Although distance learning is not ideal, I think Benicia Unified got out in front of the school closure with the launch of Google Classroom for all classes through the district,” said Grubbs. “Benicia Unified has done a great job of communicating with all stakeholders and reiterating that everyone needs to be patient, caring, and safe.”

As a student, it can be hard to keep your focus, but teachers have made changes so nothing has to be done all by yourself. Teachers record themselves doing classwork and offer support by not overwhelming students with piles of work.

“While I wish we could be in the classroom, I prefer this to not completing the school year,” said Friesen. “I can’t imagine this happening when I was young – knowing that one day I was with my friends in school and then we suddenly aren’t together and can’t communicate with the ease of today’s world. I feel like this is the best option we have to survive, maintain control, and excel in a situation that is completely out of our hands.”

We can take this as a time to decompress, try new things and focus on mental health. Even though this situation isn’t great, we can try and make the best out of it by taking care of ourselves.

Emma Goularte is the editor of the Benicia Paw and a member of the Benicia High School graduating class of 2020. She is currently working on an internship at the Benicia Herald.