Just weeks ago, 17-year-old Nick Asante had posed next to the sign with his name on it in the Montgomery County School Board of Education parking lot.
Now, Asante, the recently elected student member of the school board, has learned that the first semester of his senior year at Richard Montgomery High School will be spent distance learning.
It was a disappointment. He’d had visions of getting back to a school year filled with celebratory senior high school events. But, he said, the news wasn’t a complete surprise.
“Once I heard the decision, I guess I came to terms with reality,” Asante said.
Asante said both his parents work in the health care field, and he agreed that distance learning is safest for students, teachers and staff members.
He said many of his friends agreed: “Most of them understand that this is what has to happen in order to keep students safe.”
“I feel like it’s the best decision,” he said.
But for many students, Asante said, the decision that also included canceling fall and winter sports, has been more than a disappointment.
Asante said he’s gotten a number of emails and responses on social media from student-athletes who explained that participation in sports was the one thing that kept them motivated to keep up with their academics.
For others, Asante said, participation in school sports was the gateway to higher education, with possible scholarship money.
“I definitely feel for them,” he said. “I understand where they’re coming from.”
Though teachers and students alike expressed frustration with the experience of distance learning in the spring, Asante said he felt many teachers did the best they could.
“I definitely think our math department did a really good job with making sure students were engaged. They had pre-recorded videos ahead of time,” he said.
But, Asante said, as the student member of the school board, or “SMOB” as the office holders are often called, he will advocate for what he called “increased teacher accountability.”
He explained that students reported that some teachers put too much emphasis on posting assignments without much engagement with students. He said he had that experience himself with a few teachers.
At the same time, Asante said, he ran into other teachers who went above and beyond to make sure their students were connecting with the lesson plans, and getting an understanding of the content being presented.
Asante said he recently attended a rally and met a middle school teacher who had worked to visit the homes of each and every student to check in and make sure contact information was correct and up to date.
“So he was trying his best to physically reach out,” Asante said.
Though he’s disappointed that the social life he’d envisioned as a rising senior will once again be severely restricted, Asante said high school students have been creative in finding ways to keep in touch.
“We can FaceTime each other. I know a lot of my friends are able to drive, and so they’ll do social-distance car circles in parking lots and they’ll still be able to interact with one another,” he said.
But for middle and elementary school students, it’s harder, said Asante, who has a sister in middle school and a younger brother in elementary school. “It’s definitely been harder for them,” but he said his brother has found that he can keep up with friends while playing video games.
Asante said as the student member of the school board, he’s also in touch with teachers who serve as student government advisors, and he said, “They’re constantly talking about how they’re sad that they’re not going to see their students” for the first semester.
Still, Asante is convinced that the decision to keep students out of school buildings to prevent the spread of the coronavirus was the right call.
“I feel like everyone is starting to understand the importance of not being in the school building and keeping everyone safe for the time being,” Asante said.
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