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Many local students are nearing the halfway mark in their first-ever online school year.

Students interviewed by the Stanwood Camano News described pros and cons surrounding remote learning.

Most students interviewed said their class workload and amount they’re learning is roughly equal to in-person classes. It’s adapting to all the changes that has been the biggest challenge.

“It’s more structured, but it’s a lot more work,” said Ashlyn Sollid, a 15-year-old sophomore at Stanwood High School. “It’s harder to focus at home. ... It’s way easier to get work done at school. When you’re home, you’re at home. It’s not really a work environment.”

Remote students here get weekly learning plans and then instruction from teachers via Google Meets, some live and some prerecorded.

“You get a week’s worth of assignments on Thursdays, and I usually try to get assignments done throughout the week, but I end up doing more on Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays,” Sollid said. “It’s nice, the flexibility to do the work whenever, but I feel like I do better when I’m in school.”

In addition to upending the quintessential education experience, remote learning largely removes the social aspect of schooling.

“A lot of people love it. Those that can sit at home and do school, they thrive in this,” said Cody Vail, a Stanwood High senior and ASB president. “I’m more extroverted. I like seeing people, talking face-to-face, and you can’t do that nowadays.”

Vail finds there are more distractions at home.

“I could be downstairs eating food or petting my dog instead of working. I can see how it can feel like more work with all the distractions. At school, you can sit down and crank out all the homework or easily ask a teacher questions after class,” he said.

In the Stanwood-Camano schools’ remote learning plan, middle school and high school students meet online from about 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. for odd periods (1, 3 and 5) on Mondays and Thursdays and even periods (2, 4 and 6) on Tuesdays and Fridays.

“I’m getting better at managing time, and I know that will help after high school,” Vail said. “But we’re all getting tired. … Fatigue is setting in. We’re really ready for this (winter) break.”

Students said teachers have adapted well, but also say they look forward to going back to in-person classes.

“I think students don’t ask as many questions during remote class,” Vail said. “Teachers love it when we have our screens on and ask questions. It’s just us teenagers wanting to sit back and learn by a teacher talking. Speaking out in class is way more common in-person. It’s way easier to go up to a teacher after in-person class and ask for help.”

To combat student fatigue, some students plan to reach out remotely to others in need, said Kiana Ruljancich, a senior at Lincoln Hill High and a student representative to the School Board.

“It’s the mental health of students that’s really a concern,” Ruljancich said. “We plan to have some of the seniors go on with freshmen, have our cameras on and try to motivate them to keep going. We want to show them that they aren't alone, and we don't want them to fail.”

The transition from middle school to high school is hard enough, and starting the year online just adds to the challenge, she said.

“Even us seniors were feeling that same way,” Ruljancich said. “We don’t get to do the traditional senior things. But we’re used to it now. We kind of know what’s going on. It’s a good time for them to talk to the freshmen and say that hey, we’re going through the same thing.”

She said that while she’s earning good grades, remote learning can be lonely and unmotivating.

“You just open your screen and you're in school,” Ruljancich said. “Then you shut your screen and you're alone again. No laughter. No students.”

She said her class workload seems slightly higher now, but it could be because there are fewer large projects and group activities.

“There are definitely some students who are thriving, but more are really struggling,” Ruljancich said. “The teachers are doing what they can; props to them because they are trying. We started the school year online, which no one has ever done, and now it looks like we’re going to finish online. I want to go back really bad, but since we're used to online, it'd be a weird switch back.”

In 2018, The New York Times reported on a mix of academic studies, painting a picture that online classes would benefit certain learners but could be a challenge for students who thrive in a classroom with a teacher’s support.

Stanwood senior Nathan Nelson said online classes mesh well with his lifestyle and learning style.

“I really enjoy it,” he said. “I’d be OK with going back to class, but I’d choose online learning because I can set my own schedule. If I have something going on, I can schedule around it.”

With teachers issuing a week’s worth of assignments on Thursday mornings, Nelson said he spreads out his workload and wakes up early to complete tasks, which frees up most of his days.

“If you don’t put everything off until Wednesday, it’s not a problem,” Nelson said. “I’m not limited to the (traditional in-person) school schedule. I’m able to go duck hunting more now.”

Fellow Stanwood senior Damien Weller-Morrison agrees.

“I like that you can choose what you want to do and when you want to do it,” Weller-Morrison said. “I spend Thursday and Friday grinding out 10 to 15 assignments, and then I’m free.”

Weller-Morrison and Nelson said they miss attending high school sports events and had hoped to graduate from the new Stanwood High School building.

“I’m just trying to stay as positive as I can,” Weller-Morrison said.

He's found he hands-on lessons, such as his guitar class, are more challenging.

“It’s difficult,” he said. “I’m not able to raise my hand or ask a question when I need help.”

Andrew Norton, a 15-year-old sophomore at Stanwood High, said students have only recently started to settle into a groove.

“It’s not harder or easier; it’s just different,” said Norton, who also is Stanwood High’s school board representative. “A lot of us are better at learning in-person, so most of the fun parts of school were taken out.”

Norton said he tried getting his work done early and also tried procrastinating, but settled on spreading assignments out evenly throughout the week.

“Everyone is finding something that works for them, but that’s worked very well for me,” he said. “It’s a good balance. I think that’s what a lot of kids are doing.”

One bonus has been the later start to each school day, Norton said.

“More sleep, no long bus rides — the students I’ve talked to are happier about that,” he said. “Regardless, most students are ready to go back.”

Contact reporter Evan Caldwell at ecaldwell@scnews.com and follow him on Twitter @Evan_SCN for updates throughout the week and on Instagram @evancaldwell.scn for more photos.

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