Sky Keeling, a sophomore at Joppa High School, spends some time outdoors to work on a creative writing assignment.

EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the 10th in a series examining how local school districts are handling instruction in the era of COVID-19. The 11th story will appear in next week’s edition.

With in-person and remote learning options, Joppa High School sophomore Sky Keeling isn’t only furthering her own education but seeing ways to help her sisters with theirs.

Keeling, the daughter of Kimberly and Joe Sharp, sees several advantages to the educational options in the COVID-19 era.

She said two of her sisters struggle with school so having resources online from their teachers provides Keeling the chance to “view the videos and see how to help” or they “can re-watch it and see the examples. I’m in more advanced classes so my teachers teach me in different ways than what their teachers are teaching them, so I can see what steps they need to help on.”

Getting to that point, Keeling observed, was a struggle for both teachers and students.

“In March, at first I didn’t know what to expect. It was going to doing everything new and switching to Zoom calls. We were trying to help each other remotely by texting to see if (teachers) had assignments and stuff. Teachers were delivering packets in bags and making sure it was germ free and making sure no one was around when they delivered it. It was pretty crazy,” she said. “I’m just glad things are working out. It’s so much better now than it was at the end of last school year. Everything’s just more organized and settled.

“I have to give it to the teachers. Some of them were really struggling last year, but our teachers have figured out how to work it. Now that everything is all together for them, that made it a lot easier for them,” Keeling continued. “They’re really patient with us now. We went so long without doing anything in-person, now we have to go back and catch up on everything and they’re so super patient with us now and they’ve figured out how things work and that just makes it easier. The teachers aren’t super stressed about us not knowing how to do something because they just upload it and know that when we’re at home, we can still get the help we need, but if we don’t understand the video, we can still contact them for an explanation.”

For students, Keeling said one of the bigger struggles in March was lack of internet access. By having Chromebooks and hot spot access now, “if we do go full remote, we can still get our work done and not worry about failing,” she said.

“One of my favorite things now that we have a Chromebook is that we can learn at our own pace. With all of our work being online, it’s easier for those who struggle to go back and review a lesson. And all my homework’s on the thing, so I don’t have to worry about losing all my papers!” she said with a laugh.

For her sophomore year, Keeling is taking English, creative writing, algebra 2, geometry, U.S. History, science and P.E.

“I’m just glad we have in-person offered,” Keeling said. “I’m one of those I have to be around the teacher. I like being in an environment where it’s learning, and I focus on my work and the teacher’s there to help me at all times.”

For Keeling, that in-person assistance is most appreciated in her math classes. “I’m good with numbers, so I can usually figure something out. But math, I’m very glad we have it in-person because I have to be able to ask my teacher questions and be able to see an example visually so I can work it out with him, other than with the video,” she said.

Keeling’s also taken advantage of the remote-learning option, like when she was gone for a week for a wedding.

“That’s why I’m glad we have these (Chromebooks) because it made everything super convenient. When I had free time, I was catching up on my work so I didn’t fall behind,” she said. “Our teachers are good about replying to remote questions super fast. They’ll get back to you because they’re not going to let us fail.”

Keeling likes having the remote option for her creative writing and science class. “The ones I think are easier are my science class and my creative writing class. The other ones I could go either way (with in-person or remote),” she said. “Creative writing, I’m really good about coming up with stories and stuff, and when it’s online, I can go back an look at the guidelines he wants for our stories. Science, we’re watching videos so I can go back and review and that way I can answer my questions properly.”

The Joppa-Maple Grove School District rearranged its four-day school week in mid-September for classes from 8 a.m. until 2 p.m. Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday with 2-3 p.m. open daily for teachers to work with remote learners. Wednesday is a remote-learning day for all students.

In Keeling’s classes, Wednesdays begin with handouts given on Tuesdays. “Some of our teachers send paperwork home so we’ll do the guide and examples over a Zoom call. We’ll log in for social studies and go over notes and do the rest of the stuff,” she said.

To adjust the school day schedule, around 10 minutes was knocked of each class period to make them last around 45 minutes, which is cut down further to allow for mask breaks.

“That’s something else, too, was adjusting to the new schedule,” Keeling said. “The first day, they said we were getting out at 2, and we’re so used to getting out at 3, 3:15.”

But, school now does have one huge draw back.

“Now that there are limitations, we can’t all hang out at the same time unless it’s at school,” Keeling said. “We still have the occasional bon fire and stuff, just now we have to keep 6-feet apart and keep our masks on. For school activities, it’s pretty much the same thing: we just keep our distance and make sure we keep our masks and stuff on.”

When this school year is over, Keeling hopes she learned all she needs to get her through the upcoming years.

“I just hope I have all my credits and stuff and know everything. Sometimes we have to repeat lessons and stuff, especially lately since the cases have been rising and everyone’s on quarantine,” she said. “I just hope we learn everything and meet everything we’re supposed to based on all our teachers’ guidelines.”

That knowledge, she understands, will help her with her future, which is being inspired by her older sister, who has special needs.

“I’ve seen how her therapists help her, and I want to do that. I like helping kids, what I really want to be is a special needs occupational therapist,” Keeling said. “But if I could get over my phobia of bodily fluids, I’d like to be a pediatric doctor.”

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