By Matthew King
Granite State News Collaborative
Nicole Reynolds, a rising senior at Berlin Middle-High School, remembers the struggle of moving to remote learning in March.
“The transition itself was eased with a one-week grace period,” she said. “However, the transition was so sudden that it left unfinished business that could not be completed properly online.” She said this led to complications in classes later on in the quarter.
Schools were forced to adopt these styles of learning when New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu put a stay-at-home order in place due to the coronavirus pandemic, including moving all classes online. Schools were forced to quickly adopt new methods of teaching their students.
Reynolds has a tough time learning through strictly virtual methods. “In order to learn efficiently, I need physical, verbal and visual learning. All of these aspects became lost in translation over online learning,” she said. She said slideshows and YouTube videos don’t compare to the face-to-face interaction of traditional schooling.
Despite these difficulties, Reynolds said, remote learning had a positive impact on her mental health. “The traditional set dates and tight schedules of in-person learning were removed with online learning,” she said. “I could learn at my own pace.”
Brian Bourassa, a recent graduate from Berlin High School, also said his mentality improved during remote learning, too, but for a different reason. “I would say that my mental health is stronger than it was before because I was able to utilize the time to focus on myself,” he said.
“Personally, I do not learn very well in an online setting, but a solid effort was put forth by the teachers in order to help.” he said, adding his biggest struggle was comprehending new information without a teacher readily available.
As for his ability to focus, Bourassa said, it was tough at first. “But after a couple weeks of getting used to it, I would say my focus improved,” he said.
Bourassa was part of the Berlin-Gorham high school hockey team, which advanced to play in the NHIAA Division III state championship game against Kennett High School before it was canceled due to the pandemic. The two teams were declared co-champions. However, he said, he and his teammates didn’t let the disappointment of not playing a championship game get them down. “Our team bonded through adversity, and we became a closer group of friends as a result,” he said.
Courtney High, an English teacher and yearbook adviser at Berlin High School, agreed the loss of face-to-face interaction was difficult.
“I genuinely missed my students,” she said. “And I didn’t feel that I was able to check in with them — not just about content understanding, but also in terms of mental health and physical well-being — like I would if we were in class.“
The technology transition was fairly smooth, High said.
“I was already used to using Google Classroom as a platform for assigning work, and my students were already signed up for it. Zoom was new to me, but it was fairly intuitive, so it didn’t take long to get the hang of it.“ High also said the week of prep time teachers were given beforehand was invaluable, as it allowed for the opportunity to gain her footing before jumping into the rest of the year.
Covering the curriculum content was more challenging. “I’d say about half of what I usually covered was dropped as we went into survival mode,” High said, adding much of the organic learning during class discussions was lost.
Another teacher interviewed for this story, who wished to be anonymous, said he, too, had trouble covering the material he normally covers in his classes. He said the material he covered wasn’t even close to what guidelines suggested.
He also said he did a lot of worrying about his students who had tough lives at home. He added many of them didn’t have the necessary resources, including WiFi, printers or a basic grasp of the technology they were being asked to use with no previous training.
Like many students, teachers were affected by the isolation, too.
“I ate out of anxiety and boredom, and my screen time shot up to embarrassing levels,” High said. She said many teachers began to lack a sense of purpose. “In a way, I think we all cycled through the stages of grief, especially as the stay-at-home order was extended and we realized we might never see some of our students again.”
Matthew King is a recent graduate from Berlin High and a Granite State News Collaborative intern. These articles are being shared by partners in The Granite State News Collaborative. For more information, go to collaborativenh.org.