A first week like no other


Senior CC Meade starts this school year at her own desk, attending class through virtual conferences. (Photo courtesy of CC Meade)

The first week of school often entails catching up with friends and watching freshmen get lost on their way to class. No one could have predicted that we’d be starting off the year in our own houses, instead of the in-person classrooms we’re accustomed to.

GMHS began the school year on August 24, entirely online. Through Schoology Conferences, teachers have been using a “slow roll” approach to ease students back into the rigorous demands of high school.

Senior Olivia Pilson said she liked her classes and “getting back into the routine of school,” but noted her concern over the new virtual schedule.

virtual bell schedule
The new virtual schedule for George Mason, which includes 2-4 hours of face-to-face instruction, two hours of individual work time, and an hour break for lunch each day. (Screenshot by Stella Turner)

The schedule initially sparked discussion among the student body when a version of it was released on July 24 following the School Board’s decision to start the year virtually

“I’m not a huge fan of the ‘down time’ because we basically have a two hour lunch break,” Pilson said, referring to the hour of Learning Support before lunch, which has scarcely been used by students in the first week. She added that it will likely change as the school year progresses and the workload increases.

Freshman Noah Tice-Kepner enjoys the structure of the new online learning schedule.

“My first week of school was pretty good,” he said, “I like the breaks in between classes because it was more relaxing than in the spring.” 

This was not what Tice-Kepner thought his freshman year of high school was going to look like, but he prefers the new more robust online learning schedule compared to the one in the spring.

“I’d rather be in person but I get that we are online for a reason. It could be a lot worse; [virtual learning] is a lot better than the spring.” 

The SCA Executive Board, in collaboration with Pilson, released a survey in early August to garner student opinions on the school’s plan for virtual learning, and presented the results to Mason administration, but no major changes were made. 

Of 138 student responses to the survey, 60% expressed a preference for a different learning platform than Schoology Conferences, the platform Mason is currently using for live virtual class.

“I think the first week of school went well,” freshman Susan Rotherham said. But, she added, “It seemed like there were a lot of technical difficulties and some people had trouble attending class, so that made it hard.”

“It was hard to get as much of a learning experience because of tech troubles,” Tice-Kepner said.

FCCPS kept students, parents, and teachers informed about the reported problems, and they were resolved by the end of the short school day on Friday. (Screenshot by Stella Turner via fccps.org)

Over the week, some issues have arisen with Big Blue Button, the live conferencing system used by Schoology Conferences. The FCCPS IT team has worked to troubleshoot the problems, and will continue to ensure the platform runs smoothly throughout the virtual learning period.

Pilson brought up another popular sentiment. “It’s been difficult [being] online and not seeing people. I really miss seeing my classmates,” she said. Schoology Conferences, with the exception of when students are in breakout sessions, does not allow students to see each other through webcams.

While hoping for normalcy – or really anything that comes close to resembling it – to return to our Little City soon, George Mason is doing all it can to keep its schools running smoothly.

Despite the school buildings being closed to the general public, the PTSA and numerous parent volunteers helped to pack individual bags for each student over the past week, containing the physical materials needed for the school year, such as textbooks and assigned novels.

In the administration’s latest newsletter, Principal Matt Hills explained how each student should retrieve their bag. “Please enter on the Haycock Road entrance, immediately turn left and follow the cones/signals toward Door #1 (Grade 9) or Door #2 (Grade 10-12).” To ensure safety through social distancing, students should stay in their cars and wait for a delivery of their materials.

Families should pick up their student’s materials during the following times:

  • Last names beginning with A – F: Monday, August 31, 1 pm – 6 pm
  • Last names beginning with G – O: Tuesday, September 1, 3pm – 7 pm
  • Last names beginning with P – Z: Wednesday, September 2, 3 pm – 7 pm
  • Students unable to make it on their assigned time: Thursday, September 3, 3 pm – 7 pm

“As the first week of virtual learning comes to an end,” Mr. Hills’s letter said, “we would like to thank all of our Mustangs for their incredible engagement…we are all happy to be back!”