Distance Learning Brings Unexpected Benefits for Students

Michael Vento, Editor


March 13th, 2020 was an unprecedented day of chaos and confusion at North Kingstown High School. In response to the Covid-19 crisis, Governor Raimondo and Education Commissioner Infante-Green decided it was best to move the state’s April Vacation to the third week of March. Many students were surprised and alarmed by the early break; little did they know they would never attend a class inside the school for the rest of the academic year. 

The next few weeks proved strenuous, as the entire state was traveling the uncharted waters of distance learning. Dr. Morse, principal of North Kingstown High School, communicated that her concerns with distance learning were the “success rates for students who heavily rely on the school system and teachers for organization, motivation, and direct instruction.” Dr. Morse fully acknowledges that the pandemic environment adds “a greater level of stress and emotional needs for both students and adults.” 

With all the uncertainty and fear in the world, it is easy to view distance learning through a negative lens. However, it is important to note that at-home learning has brought many unforeseen benefits to school communities. 

One of the silver linings of distance learning is the increased amount of sleep students are getting. Terra Ziporyn Snider, Executive Director and Co-Founder of Start School Later (a nationwide movement to push back high school start times), recently explained how distance learning has increased the health of students across the country. 

Snider commented, “Teenagers are getting more sleep and families are reporting their teenagers actually seem happier, more communicative, and less moody.” 

Alexa Mitchell, a junior at North Kingstown High School, expressed how she has more sleep flexibility with distance learning. Mitchell commented, “I’m free to wake up at eight o’clock if I choose, have a big breakfast, and decide to catch some sun during the day when I normally would not be able to.” 

There’s no denying that sleep is a critical time for the body to repair itself. Scientists have concluded that adolescents require a significant amount of sleep, because of their continuously developing bodies and brains. Unfortunately, a 7:15 am school start time prevented many North Kingstown High School students from getting the amount of rest they needed to maintain a healthy lifestyle. With distance learning, there is no mandated wake-up time, allowing students to sleep in later and get the adequate rest they require. 

Another unanticipated benefit of distance learning is an increase in student independence. 

Alex Davis, a junior at the high school, explained, “What I like about distance learning is that I’m able to pace myself and plan my day according to the work I have. I think it’s a nice segway into becoming independent.” 

Alexa Mitchell additionally noted her increased amount of productivity: “Now I feel like I waste less of my time, instead of sitting in a classroom for hours on end without actively learning anything.”

Molly Wren, a sophomore, commented on how she believes distance learning has furthered every student’s independence. Wren made clear that the shift to online learning has helped students, “develop their own work ethic by depending on their own drive to get it done.” She also explained how students are able to develop better habits for themselves. 

Wren stated that distance learning has helped her with “spending time on healthy habits like exercise” along with a “time for mental health recoup.” She also anticipates that the student body will become “more grateful” when physical school resumes because, as of now, “we have people in our life worth missing.” 

Distance learning has given students a new sense of freedom. The amount of beneficial activities students have been partaking in, such as self-reflection, exercise, and time with nature is truly enlightening, considering that there are many negative stigmas about teenagers and their tendency to lack productivity. Hence, another example of how distance learning has proved favorable. 

Another unforeseen gain that has come with distance learning is an increase in student-teacher-administration collaboration. Joseph Vento, President of the Student Union, believes the cooperation between students, teachers, and staff has been “excellent” in these difficult circumstances. 

“A couple of weeks ago the Student Union sent out a doc to the Administration outlining some of the distance learning improvements we would like to see implemented,” Vento explained. Some of those things included “a school coursework start and end time”, a limit to “busy work”, and ensuring there is only one “mandated attendance form for the students to submit each day”. 

Overall, Vento is satisfied with the Administration’s response to the Student Union’s proposals. “Most of the items that were on our list have been addressed by the Administration,” Vento stated. “Based on how I’ve heard other schools across the nation are implementing distance learning, I think we have it pretty darn good at North Kingstown High School. I’m happy to say that Student Union’s distance learning goals have largely been fulfilled.”

Clearly, many students have discovered the unforeseen advantages of distance learning, but what is the Administration’s perspective of online learning? How do they feel it compares to physically attending school?

Dr. Morse expressed that she is completely “in awe” and “proud” of the school community, who have “managed this most difficult period.” Morse believes the results are “truly remarkable”. 

“Although far from the type of school we left,” she added, “the one we have built at a distance is functioning and learning is continuing.”  

While distance learning has its drawbacks, there are also many advantages that students appreciate. More importantly, distance learning could revolutionize the education system throughout the nation. Will students and communities willingly forfeit the benefits they have discovered when the pandemic is no longer problematic? After all, North Kingstown High School and the state of Rhode Island have demonstrated that distance learning is academically effective. Why not offer online learning when a student is sick and unable to attend school? Could this temporary fix prove useful in the future? Truth be told, nobody knows the answer, but many students will not forget the increased health benefits, newfound independence, and successful student-teacher collaboration that came from this new approach to learning.