Last March, students left for spring break unaware that it would be over a year before they’d return to campus. As school districts struggled to get remote learning up and running, it became clear that equity and access to technology would prove challenging. The district’s answer? Grades were “frozen” and students were offered the incentive to only improve their grades during the fourth quarter if they participated in distance learning.
Many students embraced that offer and wound up with their best GPA ever. This March, however, is a different story.
Students who are struggling say the fatigue of distance learning has led to their lack of engagement due to excessive time behind a screen, multiple forms of distractions at home and additional stress caused by COVID-19.
With last year’s offer still on her mind, Tokay High School senior Ariana Tong decided to petition the district to offer the same grade “freeze”option to students this year in hopes that the district would recognize the hardships and difficulties many students faced during distance learning.
“I saw that a lot of people as well as myself were struggling in school, especially a lot of the seniors,” Tong said. “Teachers are just putting a lot more pressure on us because they think that somehow being online schooled is easier, which it is not. Something needs to change.”
Since February, the petition has gained more than 450 signatures, with the goal being 500 signatures. Tong hopes the district will see the petition and address her concerns.
“I propose that Lodi Unified School District disregard the poor grades for the year of 2020-2021 for students who didn’t perform as well as they could’ve and instead help us in a time of need where we need help the most,” Tong stated in the petition. “I’m asking for the district to kindly consider a similar situation like last year. Grading that would not harm students’ grades but could only benefit them to alleviate some of the stress we’re all feeling.”
With social media being the main and sometimes only form of communication during the pandemic, many have seen the petition circulating from their peers through apps like Instagram and Snapchat.
“I originally saw it from Ariana who created the petition, and I signed it immediately,” senior Chloe Copland said. “I have been sharing it ever since.”
Many students say they agree with the points Tong makes in her petition.. With some students facing issues such as mental health, family problems at home, and difficulty learning over a screen, students agree that something needs to be done.
“I feel like it should be [similar to] last junior year; you should only be able to improve your grades,” senior Rogelio Ramirez Diaz said. “In the pandemic, people have been facing a lot of hardships, especially in California. They face a lot of mental and financial issues. Other people say that you just say you have issues because you just don’t wanna do the work, but there are genuine people who have or developed mental health issues during this pandemic, and having those issues can really mess up someone.”
Others believe that the district and school officials do not understand the circumstances many students are under, and are treating this time like school situations in the past.
“ I think [grades] should be frozen because most [students] don’t get to learn to their full potential,” freshman Fabian Ivy said. “It’s like having to adapt to a new environment…. a lot of people including myself are not used to [this new environment] and some teachers assign more work than usual with no explanation.”
Other students say that freezing the current grades is unfair to the students who have worked hard to maintain their current grades, despite adverse circumstances.
“I completely agree that it’s unfair for students like me who actually try to get good grades,” senior Aaron Ly said. “It’s like cheating your own education. Those grades wouldn’t be your true grade and don’t reflect your true effort [and] commitment.”
While freezing grades may seem like a viable option to aid students who are feeling distressed with school work, Principal Hillary Harrell brought up another idea.
“To be honest I have not thought about approaching things that way [freezing grades],” Harrell said. “The school board….approved changing graduation requirements for this graduating class, class of 21. They have reduced the overall credit that you need to graduate from 230 to 210. They reduced the 40 credit requirement for English to 30, which is the state minimum requirement.”
According to Harrell, this change in graduation requirements was a shared thought amongst many in the district. Principals first brought up the proposal to change graduation requirements to the school board earlier in the year, with concerns of COVID-19 and distance learning affecting the possibility of graduating.
“[Principals] have been watching their seniors all year, very much concerned about the impact of seniors not being on campus all year,” Harrell said. “It seemed like our concerns were aligned with the board’s concerns. [Changing graduation requirements] was something they were already considering.”
Although some may view a change in graduation requirements for future classes who experienced COVID-19 during their high school years as beneficial, Harrell says there are more viable ways to aid those particular students.
“It looks like the Board was willing to entertain requests to look at graduation requirements for future classes,” Harrell said. “I am not a huge fan in general of ‘watering down’ graduation requirements. I think there are other ways of looking at how to support students. When it comes to our current freshman and sophomores, I think we have the time to put into place the support that they need to be able to graduate from high school and prepare for whatever they need to be prepared for.”
Tong says that, although helpful, changing graduation requirements will only benefit a fraction of the students.
“For some people it might be just to graduate, but for me this is … our future,” Tong said. “It determines whether we get to go to a college or not.”
Contributors: Jasmine Castillo, Beautiful Armstrong, Truong-Anh Nguyen-Tan