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As Formal Distance Learning Begins, One San Diego Unified Student Finds His Rhythm

Frank Granda in a video conference interview in April 2020.

Photo by KPBS Staff

Above: Frank Granda in a video conference interview in April 2020.

Frank Granda, a junior at Serra High School in the San Diego Unified School District, had spent the past few weeks adjusting to the new realities of distance learning in the coronavirus era.

So this week, with the official launch of the district’s online learning program, he felt ready to go. On Monday, Granda met with his photography class on Google Hangouts. On Tuesday, he had Zoom meetings with teachers.

“I just got a huge chunk, a week’s worth of work, and I have to do this in one day,” Granda said in an interview Monday afternoon.

Before the physical school sites closed, Granda, who is high functioning on the autism spectrum, was placed in smaller classes and received extra help from his teachers. He says the transition to distance learning was tricky at first, but now he’s gotten the hang of it.

RELATED: San Diego Unified School District Gears Up For Formal Online Instruction

Reported by Joe Hong , Video by Andi Dukleth

“I would actually consider it an improvement because normally I have to be with 30 other students who also need support and help,” he said. “But now it's just me. I can mostly be free to finally get the support I need to get my grades up.”

Granda’s experiences are more the exception than the rule, experts say. For many students with disabilities, distance learning has been a poor substitute, in-person classes. They no longer have access to services like speech and occupational therapy and the online platforms don’t meet their needs.

“It’s really no one’s fault. These are kids that just require more support,” said Chris Brum, an education professor at San Diego State University. “Everyone’s trying to do the best they can. That’s why these kids are in specialized settings.”

RELATED: School Closures Leaving Special Ed Students In Limbo

Granda is being provided with two hours a week on Zoom with teachers and aides. He says the most challenging part is not having immediate, face-to-face help. He’s had to adapt to having to wait hours for teachers to respond to his messages.

“It’s a bit challenging,” he said. “The only complaint is that I have to wait until Tuesdays and Thursdays at a certain time to get the support I need.”

Although Granda has found a rhythm, he says he misses being on campus. In fact, he’s learned to appreciate school even more.

“One day I’m going to tell my kids — look little Jimmy, you’re lucky you get to go to school," he said. "When I was your age we didn’t get to go to school. We were stuck at home looking at our computers getting strained eyes and headaches!”

Listen to this story by Joe Hong.

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Joe Hong
Education Reporter

opening quote marksclosing quote marksAs an education reporter, I'm always looking for stories about learning. My favorite education stories put a student's face on bigger policy issues. I regularly sift through enrollment data, test scores and school budgets, but telling student-centered stories is my top priority.

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