By Julia Poole, Online Feature Editor
// As the Acalanes High School community returns to roaming the “Zoom” halls, students must form connections with peers and new teachers through distance learning for the first time.
For decades, freshmen and returning students used the first week of school to develop relationships with new teachers and peers. This year, however, the beginning of school means staying home and staring blankly into Zoom calls.
With the new year beginning completely virtually, the Acalanes Union High School District replaced many previous platforms, including SchoolLoop and Google Classroom, with Canvas.
Canvas combines all assignments, tests, and projects in one place, making it convenient and accessible to contact teachers, view grades, and submit work.
While Zoom is a sufficient substitute for classroom-based learning, there are many challenges with the system. Many students feel that establishing relationships with their teachers and peers is more difficult on Zoom.
“It’s definitely far more difficult to meet people and establish relationships over Zoom… First, everyone’s on mute and doesn’t say anything, so it’s hard to break that dead silence to start a conversation. Also, if you do talk to someone, everyone hears it, so really generic small talk is all that feels comfortable with the entire class listening,” senior Megan Baginski said.
Some students believe the structure of Zoom does not allow for freedom of discussion.
“You can’t talk openly to your teacher and classmates like you would at school. Once we are done learning, we log off of Zoom, unlike after a class at school when you could talk to your peers and teachers,” senior Jasmine Toni said.
Some students, however, find that Zoom breakout sessions, which are temporary sub rooms that teachers can create for small groups of students, allow for more intimate conversations.
“I like breakout rooms because it makes things smaller and conversations more personal,” senior Katie Bettencourt said.
Many students, especially freshmen, find beginning the school year virtually makes it more challenging to meet new people and create lasting friendships.
“It is hard to get to know someone when you are looking at an image of them instead of talking to them face to face, and you also get a more limited time to talk to people since it’s only during your class time,” freshman Jenna Steele said.
Another obstacle in building relationships on Zoom is having limited social cues.
“For me, it’s more stressful meeting virtually because I have to solely rely on talking and looking at each other to interact rather than having body language and activities to do together,” Bettencourt said.
Even some teachers struggle to make conversation and stay fully engaged through Zoom.
“I also lose interest easier because our meetings are via Zoom and not in-person. I think two things need to happen. First, the teacher has more of a responsibility to make their class more interesting or engaging. Second, Zoom meetings should not be too long,” Psychology teacher Nader Jazayeri said.
Another way connecting during distance learning can be challenging is the limited number of extracurriculars, including clubs, sports, dances, school spirit days, and rallies. Some students feel that without extracurricular activities, it will be harder to maintain relationships.
“Normally, school and extracurriculars kind of forces us to hang out, but without that built-in time, it’s easy to just slip away from each other,” Baginski said.
Regardless of the difficulties that come with distance learning, many in the Acalanes community agree that staying in touch with current friends and reaching out to new ones is critical now more than ever.
“Friends are especially important because they remind us that we aren’t really alone. FaceTiming and texting my friends pushes me to stay connected and keeps me from wasting a lot of time doing nothing,” junior Ella Thompson said.
Although it is difficult, many members of the Acalanes community are trying to shed light on a dark situation. Students and teachers alike are adapting to distance learning and facing the hurdles together.
“With distance learning, it might be harder at first since students might be more reserved on Zoom, and we’re limited on the community building activities we can do. However, I think over time, we’ll be able to establish meaningful relationships as long as we all put forth the effort,” English teacher Whitney Lenet said.