Learning gaps

Students out sick at the start of the semester are falling behind in their classes, and say the inconsistency of online resources has made it difficult to catch up

Nolan Zils and Sara Dediu, Staff writers

Audrey Nguyen/Bear Witness


Five days at home in quarantine is what junior Ryan Walters had to endure when he tested positive for COVID-19 over Winter Break. One of the first things that crossed his mind was how long it would take to make up all of his school work.

“At first it hit me like a bunch of bricks,” he said. “I’m trying to pick up where I left off, but I’m finding that pretty difficult to do especially since I’ve been hampered with a lot of assignments.”

Walters would spend two hours each day while recovering to try and catch up with his workload, which includes three AP classes. He said that even though his classmates sent him the classwork, he ended up being so behind that he spent more time trying to understand the material than actually doing the work. For AP Physics specifically, homework even as simple as textbook problems were tedious and took a while for Walters because it was hard for him to understand the topics.

“It was all a mental game,” he said.

Walters is one of hundreds of Branham students who have had to miss school due to illness because of the COVID safety policy, widening a preexisting learning gap already created by the long term effects of the pandemic and online schooling. On Jan. 14, 11.5% of staff members and 10.4% of students were absent the entire day, 7.8% of students due to illness. From Jan. 11 to Jan. 21, 102 students from Branham had to miss at least one day of school due to a positive COVID test.

If a student tests positive, they are not allowed on campus for a minimum of 5 days from the date of their test results, or latest symptoms if they are not asymptomatic. However, the students within close contact of a positive student will no longer get a contact tracing notice from the office. Instead, they are encouraged to get tested weekly at school. This is good news for Branham assistant principal Nikita Shah who has been in charge of managing COVID situations in the school, since the end of contract tracing means her busy workload has lightened up.

“It feels like a big responsibility,” she said about her role. “Because there’s always a level of anxiety to make sure you’re doing things right, first of all. I’m very lucky to work with people who keep asking me how they can help me.”

Shah also said that she was grateful for the new CDC guidelines, in which students are recommended to stay home and isolate at least five days, instead of 10 days.

“I am glad that the CDC has changed a lot of the recommendations so that students who are able to are coming back, this time sooner” she said. “I know that’s still controversial, but for students who are not positive, are not contagious, I’m glad that they have the opportunity to come back sooner.”

Despite the eased guidelines, factors such as not being present for lectures and missing important information are still contributing to the educational gap. Learning from home can be especially hard for those with symptoms, such as senior Valentina Coronel.

“I’m sick so it’s hard to get the work done,” Coronel said. “We’ve told the school so they should be able to talk to the teachers and have them reach out as well.”

Challenges with online schooling like Coronel’s have become more common with the emergence of the Omicron variant. In the CDC’s reports, Omicron now accounts for 95.4% of total COVID cases and has caused the peak countrywide COVID cases (954,009) to surpass Delta’s peak last year (294,008). Despite the surge of Omicron and the uncertainty that came with it at the time, the Santa Clara County Office of Education and the Santa Clara County Public Health Department announced in January their intentions to keep schools in-person.

“Remote learning does not support student mental health, emotional health, and academic well-being the way that in-person learning does,” said Dr. Sara Cody, the Santa Clara County Public Health Director.

However, teachers and staff at Branham have done their best to help students who have had to miss school due to a positive COVID test result or other sicknesses stay caught up on school work. Most assignments are online, and sites like Canvas, which Branham has used since the beginning of last year’s online schooling, make it easier for students to get the work done on time. However, returning students still struggle to balance the workload of all their classes while catching up, and teachers like Chelsea Follett have noticed.

Follett, who teaches three English classes, which include two APs, said that on average she has five students from all of her classes, but the number has gone as high as 18. She explained that it can be difficult to get her students up to speed.

“That’s been really challenging, trying to help students prioritize what the most important work is that they should be doing,” she said. “And there’s not always an obvious answer to that. So that’s been kind of tricky.”

Despite teacher efforts, as Branham goes deeper into the second semester, homework will start to pile up, especially for students out with COVID. Walters thinks the learning gap will widen for those out sick as the semester progresses.

“I feel for a lot of students, especially the ones who are out right now,” he said. “The work is starting to pile up. I was lucky that I missed only the first couple of weeks.”