What Distance Learning Looks Like at Public Schools

By Natalie P. and Gigi C. ’23

During this global crisis, schools all over the world have been trying to continue their students’ education while everyone is at home. The use of technology and other resources have proved to be the biggest aid to distance learning and connecting students and teachers. Winsor and many other private schools in the northeast area are fortunate enough to have plenty of quality resources and to be able to continue classes online. At the same time, public schools have adjusted their curriculums as well. To understand the differences between private and public schools during distance learning, we reached out to a few public high school students to get a glimpse of their learning experience during these different circumstances.

While there is inconsistency in how public and private high schools are running online learning, the technology used to create virtual classrooms is similar. Sabrina May ‘23 reported that at Brookline High, “We get assignments through Google Docs or Canvas at the beginning of the week for every subject, and we have to finish them by Friday. We also have the option of joining Zoom classes about twice a week if we need extra help from our teachers.” According to Dominic Rossi ‘23, Grafton High uses Zoom for video conferencing.

A recurring theme in the students’ responses was the lack of digital classroom interactions. Unlike Winsor, which requires students to attend synchronous classes and complete asynchronous work, many public high schools in Massachusetts have not given out obligatory assignments. Shruti Pokharna ‘23 shed light on her new distance learning schedule at Lexington High, describing, “We get work every week, but it’s all busy work. I wish we got more interaction with our teachers and classmates.” 

While public schools may be trying to lessen the workload and pressure on students, their actions may actually lessen students’ involvement with their learning. At the Cambridge Rindge and Latin School, Eliza Weinberger ‘23 explained, “We have Google Meet stuff that nobody joins, and that’s about it.” Most of the work assigned to students is intended to be completed on an individual basis, but this system leaves students unmotivated to attend class. Students struggle to stay engaged on their own, and, without students coming to occasional virtual classes, educators are deprived of the opportunity to teach their students. 

Many private schools, including Winsor, are fortunate enough to have the resources to organize regular synchronous blocks for all of their students. Winsor’s smaller student body is supported by generous funds composed of tuition dollars and donations raised by the school, and administrators are able to provide devices and materials for all families. Since Winsor families pay a lot of money for their daughters’ education, the school feels accountable for continuing to uphold a high standard for students. 

On the other hand, public schools have a larger student body, and many students require technology support. However, since public school systems are funded by the government, public schools do not have the same resources that independent schools do. Therefore, holding regular synchronous classes could exclude students who are not able to access the materials they need to learn.

The changes in the grading system have also lessened the incentive for students to keep up with their work. “Now that it has moved to a pass/fail grading system for the rest of the year, my classmates and I feel like there isn’t much motivation to get the work done,” described Sophia Murphy ‘23 of Newton North High School. “It’s difficult because for four weeks we were doing nothing, and then we suddenly jumped into every class giving two and a half hours of work per week. It’s definitely not the amount we were doing before, but the adjustment is hard.” Many public schools started distance learning at a slow pace to assist students with learning differences who needed extra transition time. The student bodies of public schools are often more diverse in terms of learning-ability. Public school administrators are working hard to make sure that all students can succeed during this difficult period. On the other hand, Mira Yu ‘23 at the Boston Latin School has fallen into a steady routine of schoolwork despite the different grading policies. While Mira enjoys the flexibility of online school, she noted that some of her peers “think we’re not learning enough, or that it’s too hard to learn material by oneself.”

Despite facing multiple disadvantages, public schools are doing the best they can to help aid their students and promote education. These institutions lack the funds that many private schools have to spend on distance learning, and they also support more students who do not have access to technology. Due to the larger number of students in public schools, trying to provide the necessary resources for every student during these uncertain months comes as a challenge. However, although there are many differences in distance learning between the education systems, it is important to remember that students, their families, and educators, regardless of school system, are all united by their dedication to learning during this difficult time.