First Semester: A look back

What teachers and students have to say about the beginning of an unprecedented year

The first twenty weeks of OPUSD’s academic year have been marked by students overcoming summer slide and a year and a half of distance learning. This year has been about reconnecting with friends and getting into the groove of in-school learning. However, last year’s pandemic and the resulting isolation has had a pronounced effect on once-established routines for students and teachers alike.

“It was a hard transition for most [students]. I say that because during distance learning we as educators tried our best to make it authentic and for them to have critical thinking skills, but there’s really no way to always verify that,” Science Department Chair Winnie Sloan said.

Teachers recognize that students have issues returning from at home learning but both are learning to adjust to the new but familiar environment.

“[Current students] don’t seem radically different to me than kids from years past, but I have to remind myself that they haven’t been on campus for a really long time,” AP English teacher Kathy Schultheis said.

As half the school adjusts to high school life, many have adapted their style when it comes to notetaking and teaching to accommodate for harder classes and underprepared students respectively.

“I’ve started taking more notes, especially since I’m now taking so many AP classes. Going from ninth grade to 11th [grade] was tough but I’m hoping it’s going to work out,” junior Pranav Kadiyala said.

The scars of distance learning have made this year especially interesting for those who spend the day meeting and interacting with students.

“The example I give in class is that [students] played fetch for a year-and-a-half,” Sloan said. “They just had to go fetch that information and then present it to me, so I don’t always know how deep a level of understanding there is. When you do a year and a half without critical thinking it’s like you’ve forgotten how to go about thinking and solving some of the simplest problems. I see that in all my students — the struggle is real.”

Outside of the classroom, students meet with their peers, many for the first time since the beginning of distance learning.

“Well I think probably the best part of being back in school is I get to hang out with my friends,” senior Sandhya Sridhar said. “Going through this together and being able to sit at lunch with them and just talk about our days, work on stuff with them in 7th period and help with all my extracurriculars like clubs and Mock Trial — it’s just really awesome. That’s the part I missed most during distance learning, that physical interaction with my friends. They’ve made my first semester a lot better.”

Teachers also get support from their colleagues in the off-hours when discussing new strategies to overcome the first major hurdle of the year.

“We encourage one another. Teachers are so exhausted because it’s so much work to get everybody caught up. I’m so grateful for the colleagues for the encouragement, support, and ideas,” Sloan said.

The first semester experience is difficult, which is to be expected. However, the ways students and teachers try to cope with that fact and help each other over the next round of tests and grading contributes to an overall sense of optimism on campus.

“It’s a workout, it’s training, it’s getting back in shape,” Sloan said. “I think we’re learning what it takes to be successful as students, as teachers, as a school and as a district. Teachers are learning how to meet students’ needs and students are learning how to meet teachers’ expectations.”