Students Speak About School 2020

If you have been reading Stories from School Arizona (this blog), you probably sense that, as challenging as “emergency” teaching and learning was in the spring (to steal a term from Fisher, Frey and Hattie), the scene in schools this fall has become much more complex and nuanced as we create longer term plans and policies for schools. 

I recently spoke with some young people I know who are students during this very unique year. This is not a random or representative sample of all students’ experiences or perspectives, and in fact I am related to some of these kids, but I still thought it was worth capturing their ideas about school during the COVID-19 pandemic, especially as we consider the impact of all of this, and how we will move forward in our learning communities. 

Let me introduce the interviewees (a few of the names have been changed to protect privacy):

  • Johnny is five years old. He is in an online Montessori preschool program in Mesa. His favorite subject is math. 
  • Mia is 14 years old, and is a 9th grade student at Ironwood High School in Peoria. She’s been back to school in person for 2-3 weeks, and her favorite subject is science.
  • Bailey is 11. She’s a sixth-grader at Willcox Middle School in Willcox. They’ve been back in person for about a month. She moved houses and changed schools over the summer. Her favorite subject is math.
  • Jayden is also 14, and was a 9th grader at Walden Grove High School in Sahuarita, but transferred into Sahuarita Digital Pathways Academy so that she could stay remote for the year. Her favorite subject is math. 
  • Gabriel is 17, and a senior at Westwood High School in Mesa. He originally wanted to stay in remote learning, but changed his mind and has been in school in person for two weeks. His favorite subject is physics.

Interviewing these five students was so fun that I plan to add more interviews to my archive. I will link them here for you when I get that put together!

AHS: What has been hardest about this school year so far?

Johnny: It’s very hard to pay attention to my teacher. His mom: Why? Because I always have to look at her, because I have to listen to what she says.

Mia: Keeping track of the assignments online, learning to do things online.

Bailey: Probably switching from online to in-person. Going back to school after being out of school for so long. AHS: So in remote learning did it not feel like you were in school?  So, like sometimes I ask my mom to print out worksheets to do for fun, so that’s just what it felt like.

Jayden: Getting used to everything, not being able to be in person to ask your teachers for individual help.

Gabriel: In the beginning, it was lack of social interaction, and having all the work online. Right now, I feel like we shouldn’t have to wear masks to school. I think masks are like social engineering, I think if you get people to wear the masks it changes how people think. There’s a constant representation of fear on their face. 


AHS: What has been the best thing about school so far this year?

Johnny: Reading a book that Ms. Sheri reads online. My favorite is the baby clouds book.

Mia: Getting to learn about the new subjects that high school offers and meeting new people. AHS: So, were you able to connect with new people during online learning as well? Yes, we managed to meet new people when classes were online. 

Bailey: Meeting new friends.

Jayden: Probably that I am not around so many people, so I don’t get so distracted. When I am in in-person school, I get distracted really easily, and so this year my grades have been a lot better than they usually are. 

Gabriel: Nothing, really. Now that I get to go back, I get to see people, but nothing has gotten better. Everything has either stayed the same or gotten worse.


AHS: What have your teachers or school done that has helped you the most?

Johnny: Help me learn new stuff. His mom: What is your favorite activity?  A thousand cube. A song about counting by tens (He demonstrated to me at length his counting skills. They were impressive.)

Mia: My teachers have really helped me understand how to do things online and how to turn in things online. My school has helped me by modifying my classes so they are not as difficult. I have an IEP for ADHD so I don’t have a 4th period class and I can work on my work. AHS: Did you have to push for that or were they pretty good about reaching out? They suggested it and I was really glad.

Bailey: The school gave me a computer so I am more organized with my stuff. I am a pretty organized person but the computer helps me find my stuff better instead of digging through my backpack. I was using my iPad before I used my computer. It was harder because the tabs wouldn’t open, and I didn’t have a keyboard, so I had to type things, and I couldn’t type. (Her mother commented that she was taking a typing class using the iPad and the on-screen keyboard, but was used to typing with her thumbs like on a cell phone.)

Jayden: Probably all the videos they give us. I’m a very slow learner, so I can rewind the videos and take it slowly, or else I just get all confused in my head. 

Gabriel: It helped me the most when my program administrator allowed me to come back in person even though I had chosen remote. I was losing my s**t because not only did you not get to see your friends or talk to them, but it was hard to see all your assignments on Canvas, and it helps to have a teacher there telling you your assignments. Today my math teacher helped me out with some probability problems which weren’t that hard, but I didn’t understand, and wouldn’t have known that without the teacher there to write it up on the whiteboard and show me and the class.


AHS: What is one thing you hope will change about school this year?

Johnny: I want to go back to school because I like the work better the way we do it at school. His mom: Do you like getting onto the class in the morning?  No. It’s not fair. I want to go back to school. (His mom said he cries every morning about getting onto the class online. He was able to explain that he can’t go because of coronavirus and COVID.)

Mia: I hope that we can eventually do less online things than we are right now.  AHS: Why do you think so many things are still online?  Because there are still students online and so teachers are doing more of the activities online.

Bailey: I think something that should change was wearing a mask. Because they are hard to talk with, and I have to repeat myself, and I don’t like repeating myself.  Something I would want to change is the school lunch. Sometimes I am at the very back of the line, and so I get five minutes of eating. 

Jayden: I hope that I can interact with people more soon, and be able to work with people, because I work with people pretty well, like for group projects.

Gabriel: No masks. The taking off of the masks.




I realize these perspectives only scratch the surface of the experiences of our students here in Arizona so far, but I am curious what patterns you notice, or what implications they might have for the choices we might make about school as the year goes on. What perspectives are missing that you have heard about? I’d love to hear your thoughts.


Work Cited:

Fisher, Douglas, et al. The Distance Learning Playbook: Teaching for Engagement and Impact in Any Setting. Corwin, 2020.


Amethyst Hinton Sainz

I currently teach English Language Development at Rhodes Junior High in Mesa Public Schools. I love seeing the incredible growth in my students and being an advocate for them. I am a National Board Certified Teacher in Adolescent and Young Adult English Language Arts. Before this position I taught high school English in Arizona for 20 years.

My alma maters are Blue Ridge High School and the University of Arizona. My bachelor’s degree in Creative Writing and Philosophy led me toward the College of Education, and I soon realized that the creative challenges of teaching would fuel me throughout my career. My love of language, literature and culture led me to the Bread Loaf School of English at Middlebury College for my masters in English Literature. I am a fellow with the Southern Arizona Writing Project, and that professional development along with, later, the National Board process, has been the most influential and transformative learning for me. I enjoy teaching students across the spectrum of academic ability, and keeping up with new possibilities for technology in education, as well as exploring more topics in STEM.

In recent years, much of my professional development has focused on teacher leadership, but I feel like I am still searching for exactly what that means for me.

I live in Mesa, Arizona with my family. I enjoy them, as well as my vegetable garden, our backyard chickens, our dachshund Roxy, reading, writing, cooking (but not doing dishes), hiking and camping, and travel, among other things.

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