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Education

San Diego Unified Students Start Year Facing Both Academic And Social Challenges

The San Diego Unified School District Board of Education building is shown in this photo, Sept. 15, 2017.
Milan Kovacevic
The San Diego Unified School District Board of Education building is shown in this photo, Sept. 15, 2017.

After months of planning, San Diego Unified School District kicked off its first all-virtual start to a new school year on Monday. Students logged on to a first day that lacked the excitement of years past.

Students interviewed by KPBS said their school day passed with only minor hiccups, a welcome contrast to the disappointments of distance learning in the spring. However, they foresee both academic and social challenges as the semester progresses in the virtual classroom.

San Diego Unified Students Start Year Facing Both Academic And Social Challenges
Listen to this story by Joe Hong.

At Serra High School, students are taking three classes each semester, half the usual number. Each class will cover a year’s worth of material, worrying to some students enrolled in Advanced Placement courses.

“I’m taking AP English Language and Composition, which is already a really rough course,” said Kate Chasin, a junior at Serra High. “A bunch of my friends took it, and they had a hard time getting through it even in a full year, so I’m a little nervous.”

RELATED: San Diego Unified School District Releases Plans For Distance Learning In Fall

Nina Tipton, a junior at San Diego High, worries that without the level playing field of the in-person classroom, students with fewer resources at home will struggle even more.

“I feel like it’s going to be less equitable because when we were in school, we were all doing work in the same environment with the same resources and distractions,” Tipton said. “But at home, it’s so different for everyone.”

Apart from the academics, students are wondering if they’ll make any new friends during distance learning. Tipton said interacting with classmates only on Zoom degrades the high school experience.

“A lot of people enjoy the new school year because they can meet new people in their classes,” she said. “That might kind of be an issue.”

RELATED: Schools Remain Cautious Even As San Diego Moves Off State’s COVID-19 Monitoring List

To prevent feelings of isolation in students, Chasin hopes that schools will better publicize the mental health services they provide.

“Especially now when we’re all in our own homes having to do school work by ourselves, there would be more peace of mind knowing there are people and resources out there to help,” she said.

San Diego Unified has not yet set a date for when it would reopen physical schools. The district did announce last week that up to 12,000 students with special needs would come back for in-person learning as soon as late September.