Distance Learning in Middle & High School

Parent Q&A

CHSPE instead of BHS senior year 2020-2021: Experiences/ ideas? Jul 22, 2020 (7 responses below)
Distance learning at Oakland Middle Schools Jun 9, 2020 (1 responses below)
Berkeley High Advice for incoming freshman May 25, 2020 (1 responses below)
Start UC online in the fall or wait? May 16, 2020 (3 responses below)
14 year old struggling with academics during COVID19 Apr 13, 2020 (9 responses below)
What Does Remote Learning Look Like Now at Your Middle School? Apr 5, 2020 (11 responses below)
  • Hello neighbors and teachers,

     Largely remote learning for next year has us rethinking our child's final year of high school.She is a strong, self motivated student, and is considering taking the California High School Proficiency exam in October, and then doing some community college classes in the winter and spring instead of a mostly remote senior year at Berkeley High. Does anyone know whether this would impact her application to a UC? Good or bad idea? We are trying to think outside the box for the upcoming year, as the AP exam testing, SAT and ACT testing has not adjusted quickly to accommodate the new constraints we are all under. The institutional educational and testing systems are largely dysfunctional in the COVID world, but our kids lives march on. I would appreciate your thoughts and experiences.

    Hi, there. It's very good that you are making inquiries before making any moves. My child graduated from Berkeley High in 2018 from Independent Study; I have made a study of these matters!

    Following this pathway will have a big effect on the UC application. A HS student, while enrolled as a HS student, may take as many Community College classes as they like, for free, and get the credit, and apply as a first year UC student. Once they graduate from HS, or cease to be a HS student, the entire category they fit into changes: when they are no longer a HS student and they take Community College courses, they must apply as a transfer student to the UC system. Coming in as a transfer student means they MUST follow a proscribed course series for the full two years to be accepted. This is also a great pathway, and they are guaranteed a spot - but not necessarily to the UC they desire. 

    I'd like to recommend an alternate pathway: when you enroll in Independent Study through BHS (a fantastic program, especially for the really motivated student) it is easier to take CC courses. Of course, they do fill up at IS, (and they're closed right now) and I'm sure most folks are exploring options like this one.

    Our child went to IS for both Junior and Senior years. It was a fantastic experience. Best math teaching ever with Corey Wade!

    Thinking outside the box seems right during this extraordinary time. We moved our upcoming junior to private school where at least online means the day spent “in” class on zoom with teachers instruction. I’d call some college counselors (if you don’t have 1 already) and the admissions office at CAL for specifics about how they feel about your plan. But what an interesting essay your child could write about this experience!

    My understanding is that you need a High School Diploma to be accepted into any 4 year University. Otherwise she will need to complete 2 years of Community College before she can transfer. You should check with UC directly to confirm. 

  • My daughter will be starting 6th grade in Fall.  We've accepted a spot at Claremont (our neighborhood school) but are in the 20's on the waitlist for Edna Brewer (our first choice), so we may be offered a spot there.  I know the next school year is still up in the air, but since it seems likely to be at least partly distance learning, I would love to hear from parents at Claremont or Edna Brewer how distance learning went this school year?

    Some specific questions:

    How many hours a day did your kid(s) spend in Zoom classes?  Since they have multiple subjects with different teachers, did each class still meet on the same schedule they would in person, or was it modified so that students aren't spending all day on Zoom? Was the overall workload manageable, between Zoom classes and assignments?  How easy was it for your kid to get individual support from their teachers?  What did social/emotional support look like?  (My kids is pretty shy and I'm worried she won't really connect with new teachers and new classmates if school ends up being fully remote.)  How did the school handle classes that don't transition easily to an online format, like PE, art, and music?  I'm especially interested in hearing about the Edna Brewer music program--their amazing orchestra is one of the main things we like about that school.

    If you have any other experiences to share those would be very welcome too!


    My son just graduated from Hillcrest MS, so I can only speak to this experience, although I have heard that both Claremont and EB are decent choices. I just wanted to flag for you that what teachers did in the spring may be quite different than how the program works this fall. Huge changes are happening at OUSD - they took a massive budget hit and most schools lost $40-$60,000 in funding. But - some MS are going to receive a generous grant from Salesforce that will offset that budget cut. Might be worth asking about. Distance learning looked different for each grade in our MS. 8th had about 3 hrs of instruction 3 days a week plus 1-2 hrs 2 days a week. This was more than enough screen time - Zooms are exhausting. They had loads of group projects and interesting assignments - they worked a full day and learned plenty. The teachers were outstanding. I do know that teachers are working most of this summer to design the next school year for distance learning - I anticipate a mix of distance and small group instruction. And substantial changes from the spring approach. 

  • Does anyone have advice on how to weather online teaching next year for incoming freshman. We are at a little bit of a loss about how to start Berkeley High with the new post-COVID world.

    My hard-working, high-GPA 9th grader somehow failed to turn in any work for several weeks, so we are scrambling to catch up enough now to pass.

    Problem one: technological issues are a challenge to our non-techie household.  Some of her work seems to have gotten lost via tech problems.

    Problem two: insufficient supervision by parents.  Distance learning requires skills (self-discipline, scheduling, etc.) that most 14-year-olds lack.

    Problem three: SIL-induced mental vagueness and brain-fog. I suspect our kid sincerely thought she had done some homework that she hadn't.

    Next year will have an added challenge, that the kids will never have met their teachers in person.. Our kid LOVES her BHS teachers, and that feeling is an important motivator.

    What we have instituted, which seems to help, includes

    -  a tighter daily schedule meant to mimic the school day, including breaks; 

    -  removal of cell phone during school hours (studies show that even the presence of a turned-off phone on the desk cuts into attention; the phone has to be completely unavailable)

    -  parents go over homework before it gets posted, to be sure it's completely done (otherwise there would be a lot of skipped answers).

  • Start UC online in the fall or wait?

    (3 replies)

    Many other families must be grappling with the question of whether offspring should go to college in the fall or defer admission / take leave of absence in light of college being all or mostly online. At our house, our youngest was going to start at a UC as a junior transfer from community college, he has been living at home and working very hard for this for the past year and a half after a bad start at a CSU, and was really looking forward to leaving home, living in a dorm with tons of other young people, and being at a large research university with a great department for his major. However, online learning has been very hard for him as he has ADHD (not diagnosed until college.) His doctor strongly recommends against his taking online classes, plus he is a biology major and online labs have been ridiculous. There's also the issue of paying UC tuition for online classes, for us it's going to be steep and it would be good if our kid stayed home an additional semester working and saving $. On the other hand, I know that they are greatly improving online teaching methods for this fall and it will be quite different than the current hastily improvised online classes that were switched over mid-semester, and that tons of students deferring will be even more economically disastrous for our public universities... What are others thinking?

    I think the answer for you is different since he is a junior transfer. 

    My train of thought for my teenagers goes to--this might be a great time to get accepted to a "reach" school that you have your heart set on because there will be less competition this year. For your son's set of unique circumstances, the answer is not as clear. If UC will let him defer, I'd strongly consider that. OR, it might not be a bad idea to just take a minimum number of classes/get rid of some core requirements (which he may already have done) just to get used to the idea/community. 

    As I always tell my kids--don't let the decision paralyze you. Make it, and then make sure it's the best decision for you--work hard to make it so!

    I’m curious about this too. My senior is planning to enroll this fall at a CSU even if it’s online. Here’s why:

    1. When campus does open, she can roll right in because she’ll already be enrolled.

    2. She doesn’t want to start at a community college and then have to reapply as a transfer student in two years because she’ll no longer be eligible as a freshman. 

    3.  All her units will be from the same university, and since she plans to double minor it will be easier to figure out which classes count toward graduation.
    4. if everything is online, we are exploring options of going to school from anywhere if there is a way to do so safely. We’ve looked at living in both New Zealand and in Spain while taking her classes online.  We have done the research and will just need to plan the details if either of those countries are open. 

    We have had many conversations about the fact that she is beginning her journey in a new world. I’ve really encouraged her to keep an open mind and figure out what new opportunities she has that weren’t there before. Yes, this sucks. And yes, her college experience is not going to be what she thought it was. But I don’t want her to chase something that doesn’t exist anymore. She can still have an amazing college experience. It will just be different from what she was expecting.  The uncertainty is difficult and she is so ready to start her life as a young adult. 
    I can’t wait to hear what other parents have come up with. Good luck to everyone!

    I like how the last responder, Lula, is making lemonade out of lemons. Yes, why not combine college with living abroad if you easily can!

    But back to the OP's question, speaking as someone who graduated from college not *that* long ago, when I think back on it, every memorable experience there was an in-person interaction. In my case it was a private school (Mills) and what I thought made that school worth the tuition were the cultural opportunities and resources available on campus -- and I didn't even live on campus! There were amazing speakers, events, and exhibits seemingly every week. Not to mention I took many classes in book arts that definitely could not be virtual (unless maybe you owned your own giant letterpress). I remember being in a "History of the Book" class with 8 students where we looked at rare books and manuscripts from Mills's collection in every class. I realize that's not what your child is studying, however you said online biology labs have been terrible, and I feel like an online version of that class *also* would have been terrible. So I can relate somewhat.

    Now as a parent paying school bills I absolutely would not want to pay UC tuition for online classes. And your child's difficulty with that kind of learning make it an even more bitter pill to swallow. I would urge deferring if at all possible and trying to find something for your student to do during the pause that makes it feel like less of a letdown. A work opportunity that involves travel and could give him/her a sense of independence while saving some money would be ideal, I think.

    I really sympathize with your situation and hope it works out for the best.

  • My son a 9th grader is resistant to engage in virtual learning during this pandemic . Prior to last day of school March 13 I suggested getting caught with all classes (and he did) in expectation the lack of structure is a challenge .  He is not 100% academic motivated , but will do the work if in the classroom setting.

    he doesn’t need to get up early and do the morning routine - so I assume virtual learning will be fun and easy- however is a challenge.

    he doesn’t get upset when his mom and I talk to him about it - I assume he is aware of his choice to not engage.

    few days ago told me it was annoyed by us telling him to get school work done, I don’t want to remove the cell because I am confident he can do the job with no consequences.

    how can he get motivated ?

    any similar experiences?

    I imagine that you've already asked your son for his input about why it's hard to get into online learning. But if you haven't, just using some curiosity WITHOUT responding with advice is a good place to start. Sometimes just our kids just want to be heard without immediately being given a parent opinion. So, starting with "What is it about distance learning that's not working for you as well as being in class?" (Again, you've  probably already asked this.) Then just validate how he feels. "Yeah, that makes sense. If I had to do 9th grade online, I wouldn't like it either." A few hours later, you can tell him: "I was thinking about what you were saying about how this method of learning sucks. Your mom and I get that. AND right now, that's all that is available until school ends. Our expectation is that you're going to do your school work on time every day. We're looking for you to manage that yourself. If that doesn't happen, we'll have to step in. We would hate to put away your cell phone (or other devices) until your work is complete. So what do you think? How are you going to motivate yourself to get your work done on time? We're happy support you if you have any ideas--like earning tech time or whatever you think might get you going. We all struggle with motivation at times." I hope that helps. Good luck with your son. Sarah

    Both my 14yr old and my 9yr old are struggling.. I’ve come to a similar conclusion that they need the classroom and accountability to a teacher to be motivated. Even w the accountability - they both tend to exaggerate how much they’ve completed and often “forget” to turn things in online. It’s discouraging when I hear about other families whose kids are engaged. I’m exhausted from fighting w them about it.. I’m super busy w my own work and trying to balance the two is really hard. 

    Hi there,

    What you are seeing with your kid is not surprising!  He no longer has the social element to keep him motivated to do work that he did not design.  This is actually a great opportunity to take a page from what homeschoolers know about developing intrinsic motivation and self-direction. Check out the Alameda Oakland Home Learners website... we are offering free support for families during Shelter in Place.  


  • Hello.  I'm curious what other private middle schools are offering currently for their remote learning plans.  Our top-rated private school is not offering (or planning) much in the way of virtually taught classes.  I'd like to get a sense of other middle schools and what the school day looks like for your kids at this point.  Are teachers actually teaching classes during part or all of the school day?  How long and how much of the day is interactive?  Are teachers able to conduct classes to middle schoolers by video?  Is there a coherent online system for students to track their assignments?

    Thanks. Liz

    Hi - I have a sixth grader in the WCCUSD. They are currently on spring break. Starting Monday 4/13, the district is rolling out the official distance learning curriculum/standards. The three weeks prior to this, the classroom teacher and the prep teacher were doing daily assignments via Google Classroom and a half-hour zoom session to check in - so no, no live instruction. I am wondering if this will change. (Note at our school 6th graders are still in elementary school not on a junior high campus.) I would check what standards your specific school district has put out for middle school or junior high, as a way to calibrate what your private school is doing; with the caveat that some public schools aren't launching the official learning until next week. I've been satisfied with what the 6th grade teacher has done so far, but we'll see what next week brings.

    Hi Liz,

    I thought I'd share our experience at the East Bay German International School. Our son is in 6th grade there. He basically does his usual class day online, with his teachers teaching their regular classes, they follow the same schedule that they did before the SIP.  The teachers have done an amazing job creatively making most of the curriculum work. Things like art, music and sports are more modified, though they still get assignments, have online discussions and check in. The academic subjects seem to be pretty much the same, with teachers giving class information, kids breaking into small groups to work on assignments, or working individually, submitting assignments online and doing presentations online. I think part of why this works is that it is a small school, the teachers know the kids really well and they sent out a strict list of rules for online conduct. We have been really impressed and relieved that our son isn't missing out on 6th grade content and is able to keep up with his German (since we don't speak much of it at home, I was worried he would fall behind). Please feel free to ask me any more specific questions. 

    take care, Melissa

    Redwood Day Middle School has been hitting it out of the park since just after SiP took effect (they were up and running by Thursday March 19th. Fri the 13th and Mon the 16th had long ago been planned as Parent/Teacher conference days, so the kids last official day on campus was Thursday the 12th).

    Since March 19th, our 6th grader has had the following schedule: 9 - 9:30 he, his advisor and fellow advisees meet via Zoom. 9:30 - 10:25 is Class 1. 10:30 - 11:25 is Class 2. Lunch is an hour. 12:30 - 1:25 is Class 3, and Class 4 is 1:30 - 2:25. Office hours, which are encouraged as a way to ask questions, confirm what was learned, etc (via Zoom) are from 2:30 - 3 each day. Each day he has 3 core classes (Eng, Math, Sci, Spanish or History) plus 1 of the following: art, drama, music, PE or Design In Technology. Classes are a combo of in-person Zoom sessions, recorded Zooms and self-directed projects. They head of school, head of middle school and our child's advisor have been *fantastic* about keeping us informed, but not in a way that feels (to us) overwhelming. We are incredibly impressed by how the entire school has handled this transition, how smoothly they did so, how they have kept our kids forefront in the process is fantastic as well. I can't think of a single fault or even slight bobble in this process. They are phenomenal and it is reason #492 why we are so happy we chose Redwood Day.