Preparing for the start of school this month has been more labor intensive than usual for Bianca Gonzales, who will begin her senior year at Cabrillo High on Monday.
Like many students around the state and country, Gonzales will open the 2020-21 school year online and away from her school’s actual campus, due to the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. With no physical classroom to work from, she recruited some friends this past week to help her transform a space in her parents’ downtown Lompoc office into a makeshift study hall.
That work involved clearing out old exercise equipment, performing extensive cleaning, and moving a sturdy wooden desk from her family’s garage into the new workspace.
“This is where I’ll be doing my stuff,” she said Thursday after completing the move, before quickly adding that her corner cubicle, which has a window to brighten the setting, won’t strictly be for herself.
“I’ve told [my friends] that if they ever need a quiet space to do homework or anything, they can come here and work, as well,” she said.
That effort to accommodate and adjust is a recurring theme for families and educators throughout Lompoc Unified School District as they prepare for a school year in which the only assurance appears to be that very little is assured.
“I think we’re all diving into an unknown and it’s a new territory for everybody,” said Kelly Hain, a third-grade teacher and parent of a second grader. “I think we’re all just going to have to adapt and be flexible to the challenges as they come.”
While a lot of the attention on schools during the pandemic has rightly been focused on how educators and campuses will adapt to the new learning environments, the moves have also greatly affected how families have prepared for this new school year.
For Hain, who teaches at Buena Vista Elementary School, that has involved making sure her son, Rhett, has a quiet place in the family’s home to do his online classes, while also having parental oversight.
Hain is planning to lead her classes via Zoom — a video-conferencing platform — from her empty classroom, while her husband, who is able to work from home, helps Rhett, who's entering the second grade at Buena Vista, and looks after the couple’s three younger children.
“It’s been challenging preparing and making sure there’s a quiet space in our house and [Rhett] has all the materials that he needs to do what he’s supposed to do,” Hain said.
“Except a laminator,” Rhett interjected, prompting his mom to chuckle and tell him he likely won’t need one of those.
“It’s definitely not the same, but we’re up for the challenge and we’ll make it work,” Kelly Hain said.
One of the big differences for the Hain family this year was a lack of the usual back-to-school shopping for new clothes. Kelly Hain jokingly suggested they should order sweatpants and other comfy items to wear around the house.
Although his first day of school will take place in his home, Rhett said his excitement to “meet my new friends and teacher” wasn’t diminished.
“At least it’s better than no school at all,” he said.
That sentiment was shared by 7-year-old Mackenzie Dozler, who also will be entering the second grade at Buena Vista.
While Mackenzie acknowledged she was both “sad and mad” about not being able to physically go to school, she said she was looking forward to interacting with her classmates, new and old, on Monday.
Mackenzie has a work station set up in her bedroom, but her mother, Kim Dozler, noted that their home-school situation could change significantly in the coming weeks.
Kim is currently on maternity leave, but that is set to run out in the next month or so. Because neither she nor her husband is able to work full-time from home, she said they’ll need to soon figure out a plan for Mackenzie and their three younger children.
Aside from that, Kim said she is also concerned about the effects of so much screen time for her daughter, coupled with the chaos that can sprout from having four children in one home.
“I’m a little bit nervous about her being on the computer so much and how it will all work out, keeping her brother and sister away so she can stay focused, but I’m definitely excited for the new year and her learning and everything like that,” she said. “I’m just hoping we can keep it quiet for her to be able to learn.”
Unlike in the spring, when schools were lenient with some classwork and attendance after the transition in March to full-time distance learning, LUSD officials said that standards for the 2020-21 school year will be maintained as they have been in more traditional years.
Among other things, according to LUSD, grades will matter this year and attendance will be taken daily. If a student misses three days of online classes, schools will reach out to families.
Gonzales, who is a member of Cabrillo’s Associated Student Body, said that she and her classmates who are also involved in student activities are hopeful they can still put on some events and help support their peers who may struggle without certain systems and/or programs that they had utilized on campus in the past.
“We really want to make it happen, if it’s possible,” she said of events like prom, noting that the spring semester could afford possibilities. “Obviously, it won’t be any time soon that we’ll be able to do things, so we’re really trying to work with the state and the school district to try to make a plan for what we can do to keep school spirit up, keep morale up, and help students out who are in need.”
She noted that she wanted the setup at her parents’ office because the Wi-Fi there was more reliable than at their home, and it will also give her a place to go and possibly meet with small groups of classmates to study, if needed.
She said she was fully aware, however, that many other students weren’t as fortunate.
“I’m not too concerned about my situation, as far as living and that type of stuff, because thankfully both of my parents are still working and I have all the supplies I need, but it’s definitely going to be a challenge because I know when I transitioned [online] in the spring it was a lot more difficult to learn,” she said, noting that communication with teachers will be key.
“I was constantly watching YouTube videos and constantly looking at tutorials explaining answers,” she added. “It’s going to be difficult for a lot of other students, because we don’t all learn the same way. It’s so different being on a screen and being able to ask questions once in a while vs. being face to face.”
Ready to go
While challenges are expected, many students, families and educators have expressed enthusiasm for the new school year.
“It’s still our senior year and we’re still trying to make the best of it," said Gonzales, who also plays soccer and softball at Cabrillo. "Obviously we want to be safe and take precautions and put the health and safety of others first, before having fun. That’s the main goal. But I still believe there’s a way to be hyped and I still believe a lot of us are excited for senior year.”
Because schools were forced to move to distance learning — mostly using Zoom — in March, most families and teachers got what could be described as a trial run.
“It was nice to be able to have that little glimpse into what it’s like to Zoom, in preparation for Zooming more full time now,” Kelly Hain said.
Another of the changes made by LUSD this year is that the district has purchased Zoom licenses for all teachers and students, giving them enhanced features and functionality.
Gonzales said she was particularly pleased by that move, noting that she will now be able to have Zoom study sessions with her classmates if she wants, plus she’ll likely be able to meet online with tutors, something she struggled to do in the spring.
With her senior year just days away, Gonzales said the past several months had flown by.
She recalled talking with her teacher and classmates about the COVID-19 pandemic in a sociology class in March, and they all figured they’d simply get an extra week of spring break.
“And we’re now here, and it’s kind of like, ‘Wow,’” she said. “We basically had kind of like a five-month summer. Now, with school coming back, it feels like it just hit out of nowhere. There’s been a lot of last-minute preparing, but I’m ready to start school now. It’s time. I’m ready to see what this throws at me.”