Columnist Jackie Brousseau-Pereira: Schooling, remotely

  • UMass campus Tuesday, June 30

Published: 9/15/2020 3:31:37 PM

This week my kids started remote schooling in Easthampton. One is in middle school and the other is in high school. It’s pretty stressful but they’re glad that they won’t be in face-to-face classes. As they say, “Mom, kids don’t know how to social distance.”

I’m a couple of weeks ahead of them. I’ve been teaching remotely since Aug. 24. School this year is not what anyone is used to, and the adjustment is frustrating for students and teachers alike.

Technology doesn’t always work seamlessly. Wi-Fi cuts out at inopportune times. Instructors at the college level don’t have to use the same platforms or teach synchronously. New college students, in particular, are struggling with time management and how to make friends in this remote environment.

At UMass, our first-year students are eager to figure out how to make this semester work so I turned to some experts for tips on how they are thriving in college during a pandemic.

Rachel Green is a junior from Shrewsbury. She’s a Civil War buff, an experienced archer, and a fencer. She says:

“My quarantine survival tip is to take breaks and get some sunlight. It’s really easy to just stay in my bed or at my desk. I could probably go a few days without setting foot outside my apartment. Which is why it’s so important to get up and walk around outside! It’s basic self-care, but it is something that can be easily forgotten about.”

Kimiko Daniele studies economics and spent her pre-COVID summer as a legal intern. She’s been a peer advisor, helping students understand UMass systems.

She says, “This semester has been chaotic with each class using different websites, some classes have online lectures in addition to regular classes, etc. Every Sunday I take 10 minutes or so to write down all my assignments for the week. I create a weekly planner that clearly states what tasks I have to do, and on which days. Having some type of weekly planner allows me to understand my expectations and responsibilities and helps me manage my time.”

Makayla Fucile is a Massachusetts native, a legal studies major, and a member of Commonwealth Honors College. Her advice to students is this:

“It’s been incredibly important to keep a strict schedule for classes, homework, exercise, and personal time. I’ve used an agenda more than ever this semester. It’s been very easy to get stuck at the computer for hours, so I’ve worked hard to set aside time to step away from my work.”

Ayla Thorntona graduated in May with a bachelor of arts degree in political science and Spanish. Currently she’s working on her master’s degree in public policy at UMass. Ayla was a peer advisor, an undergraduate teaching assistant, and a campus tour guide. She says:

“To survive remote learning as a college student, I change up my environment a couple times per day, depending on the workload. If the day is full of Zoom meetings and homework follows, I’ll start at my desk, maybe end up at the kitchen table, and when weather allows I will head to my backyard with a blanket, my laptop and some snacks. That has been helpful in ‘restarting my brain’ a bit and allows me to not get stuck sitting in the same spot all day, which is very possible sometimes!

“Another thing I have been doing to survive remote learning is taking a lengthy break in between classes to do something that takes my mind off of work. I’ve recently gotten into cooking and I find that putting music on and cooking lunch or dinner has been a good time to take a break and focus on something different for a bit.”

Lily Giannasca is a senior in the legal studies program who spent the summer as an intern for the Massachusetts Appeals Court. She shared the following:

“School right now feels surreal, so staying motivated is draining. Staring at Zoom squares can feel impersonal and isolating.

“When I feel isolated, I cannot begin to focus on academics, so I have been actively creating opportunities to connect. Normally I would avoid such blind boldness, but last week I reached out over email to say hello to a student I’m in classes with now and last semester. I casually checked in and offered to discuss lecture or share notes if she was interested. She was receptive, and we’ve been chatting over text since. It makes Zoom squares feel a little more human.

“Remote learning is disappointing for all students, but especially for students missing out on their year of firsts. My first year of college was impactful because of the friends I made and the experiences we shared. Just because we are not in person, does not mean that you cannot make your first college friends.”

And finally, even though I’m on the other side of the Zoom screen as a teacher, my advice for students who are working on remote school is to learn to ask for help. Instructors want to help students be successful and each school has resources set up to assist but students have to practice asking for help when they need it.

Jackie Brousseau-Pereira of Easthampton writes a monthly column. She is the academic dean and director of first-year seminars in the College of Social and Behavioral Sciences at the University of Massachusetts Amherst.

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