Malia Schneck is excited about the upcoming school year, but like many students across the U.S. wishes that she could see her friends again in September. Instead, Schneck and 160 other students at the Ohio School for the Deaf will be scattered across the state for another semester of remote classes.
“It causes a lot of different feelings and emotions like feeling a lack of motivation,” Schneck says through an American Sign Language (ASL) interpreter. “We want to just not focus on our classes or something because they’re all online.”
Both the Ohio School For the Deaf on Morse Road and the Ohio School For The Blind on North High Street sent students home in mid-March due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but gave all students iPads for distance learning.
“When we went online, I really actually liked it so far,” Schneck says. “And I have been adjusting to being independent, time management skills, working on my schedule.”
Social studies teacher Morgan Sipka, who's starting her seventh year at the School For The Deaf, mostly communicates with her students using ASL. She says that returning to class and wearing face masks would make it much more difficult to convey her lesson plans to students.
“A lot of the intonation and different social cues that are present in spoken language are visible on the face,” Sipka says.
Sipka is scheduled to begin online classes five days a week, but expects the new semester to go smoothly.
“It’s really nice that they have the technology at home already,” Sipka says. “We know that my students for the most part are already set up. We got them all set up in the spring. So being able to continue that isn’t going to be much of a change.”
Sipka admits that technology can still present problems at times, but if a system goes down, teachers reschedule time to work individually with a student.
Art teacher Terry Stewart is still finding new ways to help his students develop their creativity.
“This is very new,” says Stewart through an interpreter. “And I don’t think we know yet how really overwhelming it’s going to be, because we haven’t gotten into the new semester yet. I think there’s a lot of unknowns.”
Before the coronavirus pandemic, about half of the students at Ohio School For The Deaf would live on campus. Now they're back at their homes, like many kids whose school districts are avoiding in-person classes this fall.
“Another problem is I’m not able to socialize with anyone else,” Schneck says. “We can’t do sports and compete against other deaf schools. Seniors are really sad about prom and homecoming. We can’t have those.”
While students are missing some social parts of school, Stewart is thankful for the option of remote learning.
“I do actually feel very blessed to have technology, because if you can imagine not having internet or Zoom, we wouldn’t be able to do anything,” Stewart says. “We wouldn’t be able to communicate like this. And I think we are actually safer this way than the alternative.”