A principal’s diary of being an online high school freshman. 

December 15, 2020

Principal Jeff Tuka spent the day as an online freshman.

A principal’s diary of being an online high school freshman. 

Spartan News is a presentation of Mason County Central Schools in partnership with Mason County Press. 

SCOTTVILLE — On Dec. 11, Mason County Central High School Principal Jeff Tuka decided to spend the day in the shoes of a high school freshman taking classes online. Here is his account of his day. December 11, 2020

A few years ago I read an article about a principal that went to school for a whole day with a freshman schedule.  That principal actually attended classes, ate lunch with students in the cafeteria and walked the halls of their school like a high school freshman.  The purpose of going through a student’s schedule for the day was to see what it was actually like to go through the rigors of a day as a student in today’s day and age.  The memory of reading that article came back to me this week because high schools are in a mandated remote learning situation due to the rise in positive cases of COVID-19 in Michigan.  I remember being a freshman at Mason County Central High School back in 1992-93.  But, what must it be like to be going to school via the Internet in 2020?  What is it learning from a teacher instructing this way?

8:25 a.m. Computer Tech 1-  I am at my desk in my office and logged into my first hour class Google Classroom.  I wanted to do this experiment from home to make it more realistic, but I know that my normal school day work duties would kick in.  Class begins and it is really nice to see that there are 23 out of 27 students in attendance.  Multiple kids are eating breakfast as the class begins.  On my computer screen, I can see scrambled eggs and pizza being eaten.  The teacher, Mrs. Amanda Allen, goes over items that have been instructed this week and encourages kids to work on corrections from the week’s assignments.  Mrs. Allen goes on to talk about the block style letters that the students are to have written, proofread by a classmate and submitted by Monday.  She also goes on to explain that the examples and Google slide presentation on the papers that are due is still in Google Classroom for their reference.  Lastly, she tries to explain some things about Xello, a web-based, career exploration program that the state of Michigan mandates that the students’ complete lessons within.  

Mrs. Allen tries to share her screen with the students but Internet issues will not allow it today.  In fact, she has to leave the meeting and then re-enter it in order to not be frozen on the student’s screens.  She then explains it verbally the best that she can.  After answering questions, we end the meeting but students are to work on their papers that are due on Monday.  I go right to work on mine and then email two of my classmates to see if they’ll peer review it for me.  I know that they are busy with their other classes so they may not respond for a while.  One student in this class was logging in from Idaho.  This means they were in class at 6:25am in the Mountain Time Zone.  As I type my papers for Mrs. Allen I find myself really distracted with my surroundings.  I have to finish this if I want them proofread like the directions ask but my mind is on other things in the office.  I wonder what is on the kids minds as they are trying to work at home.  I am sure it is as distracting or more than here.  

9:36 a.m. – Algebra 1A-  This class is taught by Mr. John Russell.  As class begins, Mr. Russell has some warmup problems for the students to do on the screen.  He plays Elvis Presley Christmas music as the students work on the warmup.  This class has only 17 out of 24 students present in it which is alarming to me as a principal.  Math is a subject that kids struggle to catch up on once they are absent because they are missing a concept.  As I watch and listen to Mr. Russell’s presentation I am getting distractions coming from every direction.  I am taking notes and doing the example problems but on my desktop computer monitor emails are popping up rapidly.  My habit as a principal is to get right on reading and replying.  But, I cannot do that right now because I am in class and a freshman right now.  I turned the monitor off so that I could not see the emails.  Then, my desk phone rings and I see it is a staff member.  I grab my cellphone to text them that I’m in class and cannot answer.  I realize that I should not even be doing that because its rude to Mr. Russell.  As I am texting that same staff member emails me and it pops up on my phone.  I just drop the phone and ignore it going back to the algebra instruction.  

Now, a meeting outside my office window between a students and a representative from a local agency is happening.  I am intrigued more by this meeting than I am the algebra so I walk over and close the blinds.  I say to myself, “If I’m this distracted, how hard must it be for these kids at home to stay focused?”  The class ends with Mr. Russell reminding them of what the homework is for the week, but he calls it “home fun.”  

10:46 a.m. – Health-  I jumped into the Health Google classroom because I had fair warning that the class would be playing a review game with a web-based program called “Kahoot.”  Mrs. Roxanne Chye had Google Slides and notes on the unit of study which was physical fitness.  Quickly, I’m reading up on the material so I can compete in the game with the kids and not be embarrassed.  The game was 20 questions and I finished well for my quick 10-minute brush up.  I was really impressed with the kids and the game as Mrs. Chye has to do a lot of front-load work to prepare this for us.   This was a lot of fun and competitive.  Let’s just say I competed and I’ll leave my finish in the standings to your imagination. Twenty-two of 27 students attended this class.

11:56 a.m. – Advisory – Mr. Matt Millspaugh is my advisor.  He starts class by asking kids how they are doing. There a positive head nods and thumbs up from students.  He instructs them as Mrs. Allen in Computer Tech class about getting lessons done in Xello.  He then has us complete a short Google form as a way to take attendance and asks students if they have any questions before letting us get assignments from classes or Xello done.

12:23 p.m. – Lunch – I get 35 minutes for lunch and I’m starving.  But, I am apprehensive about eating too much as I have PE as my next class.

12:58 p.m. – Physical Education – Mr. Ed Sanders has me work on my PE fitness log:  50 pushups and crunches for me.  My office staff recommends that I do burpees.  I think differently.  

2:08 p.m. – Art Appreciation – Twenty-one of 27 students were in this meeting.  I saw one student in a car for this meeting which was interesting.  I looked through Ms. Rachel Brock’s class materials and students were working on projects about the principles of art such as proportion, rhythm, movement and balance.  The class is set up like this because hands on art cannot take place in this setting.  The students’ last unit was over elements of art and on the students were informed that on Monday they will begin a new unit about learning how to talk about art.  I appreciated this Mr. Brock and other teachers keeping the Google Meet sessions to 30 minutes or less and allowing students to work on their assignments and projects.

Here are the biggest takeaways from my day as a virtual freshman student:

  1. Students and teachers are bogged down.  There is more prep work for teachers and the grading takes longer.  I sympathize with the situation for teachers everywhere that have to teach remotely.  This is hard.  Teachers are working harder despite what some in the public may think.    The same goes for students.  They are tired and they are distracted by things that they normally would not be in a classroom. 
  1. Attendance is a problem.  I did not think the attendance in classes was terrible but it is obvious that it is worse than face-to-face learning. We have problems in rural Mason County with Internet connectivity.  Numerous times throughout the day, students and teachers who were at home got kicked out of the meetings or froze up on their screens due to poor connectivity.  
  2. The kids miss being in school and seeing their teachers.  You can see it easily in these meetings.
  3. The kids are polite.  I think as adults we view the younger generations as having lost this trait.  As we ended classes the kids smiled, waived and said goodbye.  I was proud of them.
  4. Parent engagement is essential.  We need parents to know how their kids are doing in classes and encouraging their kids to be in every class, every day.  

Things were very different from 1992-93 when I was last a freshman.  Learning remotely is possible but not ideal.  As a principal I can report that teachers and school staff miss the kids being here.  We hope and pray that COVID-19 subsides and we can get back school dances, extra-curricular activities, sports and the arts.  Please practice the proper mitigations during the Christmas season to keep you and your families safe and get us back to face-to-face learning.  Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to all of Mason County.

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