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This spring, high schools across the country were forced to suspend participation in sports, cancel proms, and convert classes to an online format due to social distancing guidelines designed to prevent the spread of COVID-19. 

We know this probably isn’t how the affected students pictured their high school experience. 

But while COVID-19 has forced some students to transition to online learning for a semester, others have been attending online high schools for years.

“The most important concept in online schooling is to schedule, plan and organize,” said Szintia Szert, a 17-year-old high school junior enrolled in the online Gifted and Talented Academy at Laurel Springs Online School

As a veteran of online learning, we asked Szert to share her experience of transitioning from attending face-to-face classes to enrolling in an online high school, in an effort to help other students cope with the adjustment. 

Why enroll in an online school?

Szert was enrolled in a traditional brick-and-mortar high school until her sophomore year. Her decision to transition to online learning came from her desire to pursue taking advanced courses that were not offered at her school.

“Learning online allows me to take college-level classes alongside my normal curriculum. My online school doesn’t limit the number of Honors and AP classes that I can take. I can also focus more on my research [neuroscience and psychology] and civic activities because I can work on these things at any time during the day,” said Szert.

With an interest in researching neuroscience and a passion for educating her peers on the topic, Szert allocates some of the free time attending an online school affords her to create content for her blog, “Neuroscience for Teenagers.” 

“My favorite aspect of online school is definitely the freedom that I have. I schedule my own day, so I can help in my community more, and I can organize outreach programs for teenagers. I could not do this in a normal school.”

Aside from the flexibility that comes along with online classes, students may benefit from having more time for social, family, or community activities. Students are also able to work through course materials at their own pace and may be permitted to customize their curriculum based on their interests. 

Adjusting to online classes

Participating in an online class requires strong organizational and time management skills. Students need to take a proactive role in their education and learn to overcome challenges, including feelings of isolation and the lack of immediate access to teachers. We asked Szert to share some of the obstacles she has encountered as an online student.

“The most challenging parts of switching to online learning is setting a schedule, fighting procrastination, and holding yourself accountable for your work. I don’t have a bell to signal the start of my classes. Instead, I have to make my own schedule and actually study to get work done during the day.” 

Without a teacher physically present to answer questions, Szert is sometimes responsible for supplementing her learning through further reading or watching videos for a deeper explanation of course content.

“Learning math online isn’t always the easiest. In a normal school, there are actual lessons and the teachers are there to help. I do have teachers — but if I am stuck on a concept, it isn’t always easy to understand the explanation through email, so I watch videos or I contact my tutors.” 

Advice for students new to online learning

The freedom to complete assignments from the comfort of your home doesn’t give you an excuse to procrastinate or not work as hard. Szert recommends students new to online learning stay up-to-date with course work to avoid falling behind.

“Make a schedule, turn in assignments on time, do work every day, and contact your teacher for help if you need it. It is really hard to catch back up if you get behind with material.”

And in terms of socializing, Szert explained to us that she still makes an effort to see her friends on the weekends. She also uses social media to help keep in touch. Once social distancing guidelines are lifted, she encourages others to do the same.

“Try to engage yourself outside of school too in your community (except now because it’s better to stay home). But you can still find ways to help from home. I changed a neuroscience conference I was organizing into a virtual conference and I made a Facebook group to help in my community.”  

Have other questions about navigating the shift to online learning? View our blog post, A Beginner’s Guide to Online Learning for tips.