The Zoomers: Westminster’s Forgotten Scholars

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Sayre Boutte

We open to a study room; a student is sitting at his desk, his materials around him. On his screen, a white box, reading Waiting for the host to start this meeting. He sits, waits, sighs, and swipes over to another page, and starts working on some other task. His teacher yet again failed to realize there was a student ready to come to class. This dilemma is one many online students have faced this year. The virtual students have been the outliers, the solitary members of our school, and they have faced different challenges than the rest of us during the pandemic. 

  One of the difficulties of the remote situation is the lack of attention these students receive. “I would say if teachers and students paid more attention to remote learners, it would be better,” says Patrick Lu, a sixth-grader just starting at Westminster. The other remote learners share similar criticism of the system. It is not a stretch to think that those on the screen would unintentionally get less consideration, but the situation unfairness is obvious.

The virtual students have had the experience of not being able to connect to those in person. “It’s harder to learn without the hands-on experiences, like in biology I missed dissecting stuff,” says seventh-grader Kirsten Liang. There is really no way to fix this particular problem, but one has to admit the lack of real contact is still alienating. “Sometimes I might not be able to see or hear someone, and sometimes they can’t hear me,” shares Hanna Wei, a sixth-grader. 

Of course, one has to consider the teachers are having a difficult year, too. They have to deal with an entirely different set of rules and regulations. However, students missing out on vital information is a serious problem, and a school such as Westminster has the resources to do better.

The purpose of the virtual system is to allow students to still learn at home. No one expects the experience to be the same as for everyone else. However, the social situation is a problematic one. “If I join on campus I’d be more social while being virtual I’m less social but tend to do my homework faster,” says Lu. For sixth-graders, the lack of new friends is a serious issue. The new students lack opportunities to meet new friends, with the exception of other Zoomers. The sixth graders may have to rely on their older friends. “Some of my other best friends, they’re also on remote learning as well,” says Wei. 

Despite popular opinion, there are occasional advantages, such as no commute and, of course, lack of opportunity to get the virus. Liang listed the practical assets of the system, as well as its flaws: “Cons: Teachers sometimes forget you’re there, and tech issues, it’s generally hard to just be involved in the classroom. Pros: You never forget anything because you’re at home, you don’t have to wear pants . . .” 

Long-term Zoomers are not the only ones affected. Some in-person Westminster students get sick or quarantined, meaning they have a temporary hiatus from their regular schedule. These students likely miss out on much more, as their teachers may not be used to having someone virtually attending classes. Their teacher could accidentally leave their student out of a whole class, leaving them far behind their classmates. 

All in all, no one was expecting the virtual system to be perfect, and that much is true . . . The students have had a difficult year. As for what can be done to make the network better, perhaps more consistent and thorough Zoom meetings on the teachers’ part, which several students have claimed would be a simple solution. “Besides giving a robot body connection to school, I don’t think there’s much you can do . . . or maybe having the teachers be more aware of the Zoom people, because sometimes they just forget to post stuff, but then we don’t have it because it was handed out in class,” says Liang. The second suggestion seems feasible, especially if, as the school year is ending, it was considered for next year, with a fresh start.