This year, like other schools across the country, Cañada Middle College, a program that allows students in the Sequoia Union High School District (SUHSD) to attend classes on a college campus while simultaneously taking high school classes, has moved online because of the spread of COVID-19. Juniors, in their first year at Middle College and new to the program, shared their experiences in a new environment during the coronavirus pandemic.
Each junior at Middle College has to take three high school courses, which are the English, History, and Advisory & College and Career Readiness classes. Anna Younes, a Middle College student from M-A, said, “Our college classes are whenever we pick them, so some students are taking 100 percent online, or asynchronous classes, some people are taking classes that meet four or five days a week and other people are taking classes that meet two days a week.” She further explained these classes could meet “in the evening or in the morning, it could be whenever.”
Xitlali Curincita, a student from Everest High School, said that one of the biggest things she enjoys about Middle College is the greater freedom she has when choosing and taking classes. She said, “I love the independence that I lacked at my other school. I feel like it gives you a sense of what it means to be an actual college student.”
Younes explained that she also likes the freedom that Middle College courses provide because “I don’t know what I want to study yet, but I’m getting an idea because I’m getting the chance to explore what sounds interesting.” She added, “It’s very fun to choose classes. We have a giant catalog with a lot of classes and after we meet our high school requirements, we can basically pick whatever classes we want.” For students that know what career they want to pursue after college, Middle College helps them prepare with a wide range of classes, as is the case for one of Younes’ classmates, someone that she said, “Is super excited to go open a flower shop so she’s taking business classes and stuff because that’s her dream.”
Marissa Guttierez, a student from Woodside High School, said that two of the most interesting classes she’s taken are Cultural Geography and Art History, “which is something that I definitely had not expected.” In her Art History class, Guttierez explained they are currently studying art from before the Common Era, connecting “common things that we can find between the ancient empires, how they were similar, how they were different, and how that is expressed through their artwork, or different beliefs, religions, and stuff like that.” She said, “I think that the thing that is coolest is that I feel like I’ve never studied this before. I just think that this is something that I’ve never really learned about and I’m realizing how cool it is and I definitely didn’t expect that.”
Carlmont student Bayaan Shehadeh said she also took an Art History class, along with a Communications class that she took over the summer. “Most of what we did was prepare for speeches,” Shehadeh explained, “some of them were about a personal experience or about a problem in the world. For example, I wrote one about whether or not juveniles should be charged as adults.” She said Communications “was one of my most interesting classes because I do enjoy public speaking and at Carlmont I’d never had the option to take classes like debate or public speaking.”
Upashana Prakash, a Middle College junior from Sequoia High School took three asynchronous college classes this semester and said that at first “I was worried because I didn’t know how hard it would be to get to know my peers” and about “the big disconnect we were going to have since we weren’t being in person really getting to know each other.” With three completely online classes and no class sessions on Zoom, Prakash said this requires “a lot of holding yourself accountable that has to be done, a lot of time management, and a lot of managing your work well.”
Other students agreed with Prakash about having a harder time connecting with other juniors at Middle College, including Curincita. She said one thing that made online learning at Middle College unique to other high schools is that “it’s all new people, so we’re all trying to get to know each other.” Rather than knowing most of the other students, Curincita said “I think I only know maybe two people. So it’s just the social environment, it’s harder to socialize online.”
“From what I’ve heard, Middle College is a really close community when we’re in person,” said Jacob Villorente, another Woodside student. But like most students during the Covid-19 pandemic, Villorente and other Middle College students have not had the opportunity to meet their peers in person.
According to Shehadeh, the juniors have tried to remedy their unfamiliarity with each other through “group chats, sometimes the counselors send out emails letting you know ‘Hey, you have this person in your college class that’s also in Middle College, make a study group, make a study buddy,’ and I feel like that helps a lot.” Shehadeh also said that “before we started the program we had this whole week of orientation, where we were put in a bunch of breakout rooms and we were just meeting each other and talking and we were kind of forced to talk to each other.” Additionally, Shehadeh said, “I do wish I was at the college campus, getting a feel for it, because the point of this program was to get a head start on the college experience so I’m not too frustrated or confused or stressed when I’m going into freshman year in university.”
Prakash, who took three asynchronous college classes this semester said that she would prefer that her college classes be on Zoom “because when I feel like I’m teaching myself, I feel like I’m only absorbing information for that moment for that assignment and I’m not really learning, I’m just looking and repeating whatever I see.”
Shehadeh, however, said she prefers her asynchronous college classes “because I feel like the professors and the assignments are more straightforward so Zooms generally are not required.”
With Canada College’s announcement that classes will be online for the remainder of the 2020-2021 school year, a call that is ahead of any decision made by the SUHSD, hopes of a return to campus will not be fulfilled, but Gutierrez explained that right now, “it’s honestly about doing what is safest and as much as I would love to get together and socialize and have that environment, I honestly want to do what’s best for my health and for others’ health.”