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Columnist Sara Shallenberger writes on the pros and cons of online school in LOSD

It's been a tumultuous time for students, to say the least. Proms and graduations are cancelled. There will be no seniors tossing their papers into the air in the commons when the final bell rings, and no hopping around town on June weekends to run the grad party circuit. But to the relief of many, standardized testing has been cancelled, many teachers are throwing out their finals, and the traditional A-F scoring system has been tossed away.UPLOADED BY: HOLLEY, CLAIRE - SHALLENBERGER

While so many things have been lost, however, something new and very controversial has risen up to take the place of the lost daily routine—online school. It's hard to dream up an education system as varied and contentious as this one. On one hand, it provides a semblance of instruction and guidance that can reduce the stress of traditionally overworked students. But online school also takes even minor weaknesses of public school and magnifies them exponentially. It's a system that works well for some, but horribly for others. So let's break it down:

The pros: Online school is great for students that are usually high achievers (a group we have no shortage of in Lake Oswego). For those interested in learning, I've found that teachers are excellent at distributing engaging and challenging materials and options for students that want to stay active in their education during this time. Even if these options aren't readily available, teachers are often more than happy to talk to their students and provide additional resources. After all, they're just as starved for human interaction as the rest of us. For these determined learners like myself, online school is also a great respite from the usual slog of tests, projects, and homework, without taking away the engagement. Online school is flexible and forgiving for overachieving students locked into rigid schedules.

But these same traits make online school absolutely ineffective and inadequate for large portions of the student body, if not the majority. If you aren't really invested in learning, there's no reason why you would actively participate in online school. The new pass/fail grading system ensures that one only needs to complete the bare minimum to finish the course. There is no discipline in this new system—no bells, no attendance, and few deadlines. What incentives are there for those who just don't see the advantages of sitting at a computer taking notes on a recorded lecture when you could be watching TV, talking to your friends, or pursuing a hobby? And while most juniors would be starting the college search and application process this spring, for the counseling department, reaching out to students to get them started on this journey has become far more complicated than just sending a note to a classroom. Not to mention, socioeconomic and family situations play a huge role in a student's ability to participate in online school. A student having to take care of several younger siblings while their parent(s) work(s) has serious impediments to their participation. Many families lack technology or Internet, and while our school district has been persistent in attempts to get laptops and hotspots to students, it cannot be ignored that the lowest income families are often the hardest to reach out to. To sum up the cons: The challenges of in-person school — keeping unmotivated students in class, supporting students of lower-income families, and guiding confused teenagers through the college search process — are only magnified when attempted through a screen.

Obviously, we're still in the testing stages of this system — it won't ever be perfect, especially not anytime soon. But online education has already shown me a lot about our community and society. I've learned that when there is a crisis, we're unequipped to address everyone's educational needs. But I've also seen that we have amazing teachers here in Lake Oswego who care about their students even when they don't see them every day, and there are mental health benefits to breaking up the slog of tests, homework, and projects. But, for the time being online school will be like many other things in life: what we make of it.


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