Returning to School in a Time of Uncertainty
Youth Research Podcast
Listen to Student Research Fellows from the UCLA Community School located in Los Angeles, California, share their research findings. Student researchers interviewed fellow students, teachers, staff and parents to understand how they are feeling about a return to school after so many months of distance learning.
Chapter 1: Introduction
Adriana: Hello, I’m Adriana Rios-Cruz, a senior at UCLA Community School located in Los Angeles. We are a public K-12 school in the Koreatown/Pico-Union area of Los Angeles.
Diego: I’m Diego Chavez, a junior at UCLA Community School. Adriana and I are student research fellows at our school and we wanted to understand how teachers, students and parents are feeling about coming back to school after so many months of online learning.
In particular, as COVID persists, how do they feel with all of the uncertainty about what is ahead. You just heard from a student at our school who responded to our questions.
Adriana: To provide a brief explanation of what we will be talking about today, we interviewed students, teachers, and parents at our school about COVID-19, online learning, and coming back to school. We wanted to capture the different perspectives and to come to an overall understanding of how they feel being back at UCLA Community School and how they have been doing so far.
Diego: We got many responses from parents, teachers, staff and students, and we would like to get started with sharing our findings. We introduce you first to Nareli Lopez, who worked with Adriana, in gathering information from students.
Diego: Hi Nareli!
Chapter 2: Student Perspectives
Nareli: Hey! I’m Nareli and I worked alongside Adriana to learn from our peers about how they were feeling. We interviewed students from 1st to 12th grade and we noticed that, overall, students wanted to come back. Students felt online learning was really hard, whether that was because they had internet issues, or didn’t have the supplies needed to do their work, being back is a relief.
Adriana: I thought it was interesting to learn from the lower school students. As older kids ourselves, we think that younger students aren’t even aware of the virus or worried, but speaking with the younger kids, we learned that they have lots on their mind. A first grade student tells us what they think COVID-19 is.
1st grader: It is a kind of infection that goes inside your body or your nose, or your mouth, or whatever place but it infects your heart and something and you kind of feel like you don’t feel good. And sometimes you go to the hospital like, you can’t stop the pain. And you are just like scream and shout and like move your arms and like move away. But actually, when the results come in, it means you are kind of like going to be dead in a few days.
Adriana: I have to admit interviewing younger students was a highlight for me. But as we just heard, this student, like students from K-5th, thought a similar way—that COVID caused people to feel unwell and some would lose their lives to Covid-19.
Nareli: In terms of how students felt about online learning, many felt that online learning was not the best but it wasn’t the hardest. And this was a common answer throughout all grade levels. Let’s hear what a 4th grade student had to say.
4th grader: Online learning, I didn’t really like it. It didn’t feel normal like how you used to go to the actual real-life class.
Nareli: Did you like online learning, would you have preferred to stay online?
4th grader: No, because it’s harder for me to know what they’re doing because sometimes they freeze or I get kicked off somehow.
Adriana: As we just heard, this student compared online learning to in-person learning and added that due to internet issues while learning online through Zoom, they would miss out in class which impacted their learning.
There was a 5th grade student who answered this question similarly but added something else.
5th grader: En algo si me gusto y en algo no me gusto. Que nos quedamos y no podemos vernos en persona pero lo bueno es que aún pudimos aprender aunque no estábamos juntos.
Adriana: Translating what this student said, she didn’t like not being able to see her classmates and teacher in person but added that it was a good thing that they were all able to learn even though they weren’t together.
Nareli: Given that the answer concerning online learning was common throughout all grades, a junior in high school added.
11th grader: Online learning was boring, it was more difficult than it was in person so when we came back in person it was really helpful because I could focus more.
Nareli: We can come to the conclusion that although in person learning was more beneficial to students, that online learning was difficult for a majority of students.
Adriana: As for how students feel about actually stepping foot on campus again, many seem to feel relieved to finally come back and learn in person. Many students wanted to come back despite the pandemic. Of course, now being back we have to take extra safety precautions. Here is what a 5th grade student mentioned about coming back.
5th grader: Yes, I do like coming back because I get to meet my teacher in person and even though with the pandemic we try to keep our distance
Adriana: Just like this student said, many other students felt the need to socially interact with those around them since they didn’t get to during the online school year.
Nareli: Just like elementary school students, high school students wanted to come back in person. A senior who chose not to be recorded told us that they feel safe coming back because our school is constantly testing students for COVID-19 and offers the vaccine shot.
Adriana: In our school community it truly feels like we are all just a huge family. Interesting what we can learn about our lower and high school students.
Nareli: Going through these interviews we had a sense of what could be going on in their minds, and what they worry about. We had a majority of the kids say they wanted to come back. Online was hard, whether that was because they said they had internet issues, or didn’t have the supplies needed to do the work their teachers gave them. After our findings we thought it would be right to also hear and acknowledge teachers and staff’s opinion on returning to school. We will hear from Yao and Diego who interviewed teachers and staff. Hello Yao.
Chapter 3: Teacher and Staff Perspectives
Yao: Hi my name is Yao, and I worked with Diego to understand how elementary, middle and high school teachers were feeling about their classrooms and curricula after returning to school. We also interviewed some staff members at our school to see how they are adapting and feeling about coming in contact with more students, teachers, and other staff. Let’s start off with Diego’s findings. Hi Diego!
Diego: Hi Yao! Thank you for your introduction! We started by asking teachers “How has your curriculum changed after returning to school” We found that teachers of all divisions have had to make a few changes in their teaching curriculum. Let’s start with a response from one of our elementary teachers, who teaches 2nd and 3rd grade students.
Teacher: So, you know, when we went virtual teachers had to prepare everything. We had to rearrange all our curriculum. We had to condense it just to make sure that we’re hitting the biggest, most important standards and getting deep into each as much as we could. Given the difficulties with the pandemic, we also had to create all our units in a virtual format. So everything was on Google Slides, which we had never used. So we you know, we got to experience that which is great. However, it took a very, very long time to recreate these units in our work for a virtual format.
Diego: It seems that digitizing curricula is a new concept for our teachers! Here’s another response from one of our middle school teachers.
Teacher: There’s still a lot of transitioning that we’re doing physically, you know, not being home all day, but also emotionally being around people again, having anxiety about COVID because I teach eighth grade. There are some students in my class who are just barely turning 12. And then, of course, for other reasons also unvaccinated and something that has caused a lot of anxiety and change, and how we do school together. And so one of the changes, I think that we really, I really implemented this year is really slowing down a lot, not rushing back into learning things and filling every single moment with work to do. But helping to guide students through transitioning back and taking breaks. And really thinking about, you know, what is important right now as we are back here together. In our first unit we started out spending time outside and doing art and community building, and going through kind of the basic skills of science.
Diego: Now that we’ve heard from our elementary teachers and middle school teachers, here are some responses from our high school teachers.
Teacher: Wow, you know what, this year after COVID, and working from home, it’s been difficult, because my curriculum now is hybrid. Sometimes, you know, the internet works, sometimes it doesn’t. Sometimes the students have the computer, and sometimes I have to go to paper, and also in using technology. So I’m in a hybrid class right now. And because the district implemented new books for the Spanish department, so we need to use the workbooks and paper.
Diego: After hearing about our teachers’ changed curriculum, let’s listen to responses from a follow up question: “how do you think that our return to school is pushing our progress forward?”
Teacher: So for our COVID progress, I think that I definitely felt very anxious about so many people sharing the same space indoors. Thankfully, we’ve been in school for almost five weeks now and we haven’t had an outbreak. A lot of people are testing to be with each other so that’s great. I’m very grateful for the mask mandate. I think that has made all the difference. And now we have these vaccine mandates as well, to help protect people in that additional way. And so in that sense, I feel like as long as people are getting pushed to be vaccinated and to continue wearing masks, I think it’s been feeling okay, that we are back. I do still like, keep the door open. I’ve tried to have students drink their water outside not indoors. So I think in LA, it seems like we’re doing okay, that it’s not pushing us backwards.
Diego: Overall, teachers do believe that our return to school has been pushing our progress forward, both in terms of academics and health. We know that returning to school during these uncertain times is concerning. Our teachers would agree as well. We as students also feel safe with these vaccinations taking place.
Yao: Thank you, Diego, for your responses! We all know that during this pandemic, we all have felt this big concern of whether students are actually learning. Here’s our findings for the question, “Did students’ level of understanding meet your standards?” The opinions for this question seemed to differ in terms of what teachers would define as meeting their standards. Some teachers provided a counter-argument to this common belief. Let’s listen to a response from our 2nd and 3rd grade teacher.
Teacher: Honestly, I will say that the kids really surprised me in in stepping up to the challenge. The kids definitely met my standards and they went beyond what I thought could be possible last year. The proof of it is coming back to this year and just seeing how amazing they’re doing. They’re just ready like oh yeah, we did this last year with some of them who are coming back for the second year with me. Oh yeah, we did this last year and now this now and they’re pushing each other to go above and beyond that. And the social aspect that really surprised me too. I thought how are my third graders going to be leaders this year? Usually they know my routines and practices in the classroom. And that’s how they’re able to support the second graders with the routines and practices and social emotional development and they were just ready.
Yao: On the other hand, many teachers also feel that this year might involve a lot of review due to varying reasons.
Teacher: So not all classes got the same amount of knowledge. So I think that this year is going to be like a review for everybody.
Teacher: Just because you know, before they would sit back, you know, and hide behind the screen, some of them weren’t even there or listening.
Yao: You just heard some responses from high school teachers, however, all teachers have felt that all students have met their standards in terms of trying their best. Moving on to our last question, we asked our teachers, “What is the role of technology in your classroom moving forward?” It seems that technology has been quite useful at our school as students have gotten used to using technology over the year and a half we spent learning in our homes. Unexpectedly, even elementary classrooms have found technology so useful!
Teacher: Now I’m like Google Slides, Queen Master, you know. Before pre- pandemic, I was like, “Oh, my God, this is this takes forever.” Now I’m able to do it quicker. And this is better for the kids. They’re used to seeing things on screen, this is a good transition back.
Yao: It seems that technology has also made resources more accessible for all students in general. However, it’s also about being able to reach all students.
Teacher: It is harder for teachers now, because there are some kids that are not here for different reasons, whether they’re out sick or not, and just trying to make things accessible to them when they’re not in the classroom.
Yao: Looking on the bright side, some of our high school teachers felt that using such technology can even be useful for their students’ lives later on.
Teacher: You know what, I think I learned a lot. A lot of people say in the news that you guys didn’t learn a lot as students. But I felt like as a teacher, I really learned how to use technology, a lot of applications, a lot of new ways of making the class interesting. I think the students got to learn a lot about the applications. I think we’re gonna be in a technological year.
Yao: That’s all we have from our teachers, but let’s not forget about our staff members! When asked whether or not they feel comfortable and safe in our current environment, our cafeteria ladies, tech guy, and cleaning crew say that they do feel safe for now. They interact with a lot of people at our school, but because of our implanted safety protocols and more people getting vaccinated, and them being vaccinated themselves, they feel safe returning to school. As for what was different then and now, many replied saying that not much was different other than the fact that they now interact with more students, parents, and other staff on a daily basis. As for how they thought we could improve our safety protocols, they believed that collaboration was key. With all the students, parents, staff, and even administrators communicating and collaborating with each other, we could continue to be safe and improve our safety protocols, if needed, swiftly.
Diego: Thank you, Yao. Now let’s hear what parents had to say. But before we do, I will let our researchers introduce themselves. Take it away.
Chapter 4: Parent Perspectives
Eduardo: Hello, I’m Eduardo and I’m a senior.
April: Hi, I’m April and I am also a senior.
Alex: And I’m Alex, a senior.
April: For this section, we will be reading the questions we asked our participants and their responses.
We gathered data from the parents of 5th, 6th, 8th, and 9th graders. We weren’t able to interview parents, but we asked them to fill out a brief survey on back to school night.
Alex: We started by asking parents how they felt overall about students returning to in-person instruction. We were greeted with surprisingly positive sentiment towards students going back, which was quite contrary to our own beliefs that parents would be in absolute disagreement about students learning in an environment where they are subject to loosened restrictions and in danger of contracting COVID. Despite parents’ concerns about their child’s health, they still support reopening schools because they see how happy their children are being on campus.
Eduardo: We then asked parents what their children had shared with them in regards to in-person instruction, as we thought it would give us valuable insight about how students are feeling. Majority of parents mentioned that their child feels happy returning back to school but there was one parent who did not explicitly state this. For instance, the parent noted that there are some students who take off their masks. This response however does not include any context. Students could be taking off their mask to drink water or during lunch when they are eating. In any case, it is important to note that there may be some doubts about returning to school.
April: And Lastly, for the final question we asked parents about the changes they would want to see at our school in order to make it a better experience for students. Some parents did not have any recommendations and even encouraged the school to keep up with the great work. However, a parent suggested more vigilance and more cleaning. Another parent recommended that the school provide healthier food instead of the cold meals that students are eating. To emphasize this point, the parent states, ¨si no hay salud no hay vida, y si no tienes vida el estudio académico donde queda?
Alex: Based on what parents told us, we came to understand that even though it was a difficult adjustment, parents feel okay and happy that their children are coming back to school. Even more, students are loving being back on campus and are super excited to be here.
Chapter 5: Conclusion
Diego: Thank you April, Eduardo, Alex, Yao, and Nareli for all your hard work collecting information regarding returning to campus in uncertain times.
Adriana: Let’s all remember that there is still a pandemic in place and we should all follow the safety protocols to stay safe. I think that at times like these it’s important to remember that we are in a school community that is there for their students emotionally and academically whether we are learning online or in person.
Diego: That is right, don’t forget that if you are a student or member of UCLA Community School, that you have many people supporting and cheering you on! I would like to thank my colleagues for their time and effort spent on this podcast. Thank you all for listening and have a great rest of your day!
20 MINUTE LISTEN
About the Researchers
Diego Chavez. Diego is a junior at UCLA Community School. Diego became a Student Research Fellow to help voice the opinions of people in his community. Diego plays for the volleyball team, runs cross country and enjoys it all. He is a responsible student and always challenges himself. He enjoys music, hanging out with friends, playing volleyball, fashion, watching movies and sleeping.
Eduardo Galindo-Munoz. Eduardo is a senior at UCLA Community School. He became a Student Research Fellow in order to learn more about his school’s community. When Eduardo isn’t studying, he spends his time driving, making impulsive purchases, expanding his learning and giving back to his community.
April Mendoza Jimenez. April is a senior at UCLA Community School. She became a Student Research Fellow to feel connected to her community and peers. When she’s not studying, April loves to spend time playing with her Nintendo Switch, watching shows on Netflix, or reading books.
Nareli Lopez. Nareli is a senior at UCLA Community School. She became a Student Research Fellow to learn more about her school community, and get to know different perspectives from the students/teachers/staff at UCLA-CS. When she’s not studying, Nareli loves to spend time playing soccer and driving around.
Adriana Rios-Cruz. Adriana is a senior at UCLA Community School. She became a Student Research Fellow in order to learn more about the students and teachers around her. When she is not studying, she enjoys listening to music, playing basketball, and watching Dodgers baseball.
Alex Alejo Salvador. Alex is a senior at UCLA Community School. He became a Student Research Fellow in order to learn more about his community and the effects the pandemic has had on them. When he is not studying, he enjoys spending time watching YouTube videos.
Yao Wang. Yao is a junior at UCLA Community School. She loves cats. She loves to sleep. She loves to be outside of school. She became a Student Research Fellow for special student aide privileges, but most importantly to make a difference in her community! When she’s not at school, she enjoys spending time with her cat, Patches, who is kind of fat and kind of ugly. She lives, she loves, and she laughs!