Online learning impacts students at The Hill School


Kelvin Griffin ’21 participates in online learning. Photo by Hunter Sloan ’23

As the school day comes to a start, Kelvin Griffin ’22 heads over to his computer to get ready for his first period class. 

“Just one week ago, I was sitting down in class, and now I am sitting down for class in my bedroom,” said Griffin, who went virtual at the end of March in order to compete in wrestling tournaments. Griffin isn’t the only Hill student who had to transition to virtual class this spring. Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, some haven’t even had the chance to be in-person at all this school year. 

Ariana Polevshchikova ’23, a newcomer to The Hill School, has been a virtual student in Russia this whole year due to travel restrictions. “As a new student, I was missing quite a lot of the experiences that I was expecting to have,” she said. However, despite being away, she shared that she was able to connect to her peers and that she has felt as if she was on campus.

See below for a video of Polevshchikova studying while online:

Polevshchikova also mentioned that her online experience came with a few embarrassing stories, as when she “secretly tried to take a picture of the board and ended up taking it with the flash on” or when she hit her LED light on in the middle of the class and the remote controller broke.

Ariana Polevshchikova ’23 eats breakfast while in her first-period class. Photo contributed by Ariana Polevshchikova ’23.

Other remote students also brought up that online learning could not replace the in-person learning experiences. 

Many students felt like they were unable to participate in class truly. Fourth former Lily Heft ’23 was remote for the fall term as one of her family members was at high risk. She said, “I felt that I was unable to participate in-class activities fully, and I think that I was not retaining as much information as I would have hoped.” 

Heft also shared the feeling of being left out on the Hill experience since she could not engage in many community activities, let alone spend time with her friends.

Wrestler Kade Davidheiser ‘23, who has been virtual for most of the year to compete in wrestling competitions, expressed similar feelings about online learning: “In a lot of cases, I feel like the teachers forget that I am there.” 

On the other hand, Charles Gardephe ‘21, who went virtual to continue to play club ice hockey, felt that prior online learning experiences in both the spring and the fall prepared him for being remote. He also said that “students have been friendly and inclusive, which makes it easier, and teachers have been supportive and haven’t treated me any differently.”

Being remote made it harder for newcomers to commit to the Hill school environment fully. 

Charlie Rauch ‘24 became an online student in the spring term to play for her ice hockey club. When asked about her online experience as a new student, she shared that she could not attend form events, go to meals, or weekend activities online, making it difficult to meet new people. “It was hard seeing everyone be on campus, go to class together, and hang out while I was home sitting in front of a computer,” she explained.

Kai Reis ’23 works on a project while on Zoom. Photo contributed by Kai Reis.

Remote students also expressed their opinions on the new 80-minute-long class period schedule this year, which was different from the usual 45-minute class periods. Many said they had “mixed feelings” about this new adjustment.

Kai Reis ‘23 said, “I think that it certainly keeps more students out of the halls and away from each other, therefore making the prevention of the spread of COVID more efficient.” However, he also mentioned that “it is very difficult for students, even more so online, to remain focused for such a long period.”

On the other end of the spectrum, international student Polevshchikova noted that the 80-minute class schedule “is a good solution for students with different time zones,” as it ensured a steady studying time, allowing remote students to get as many discussions in class as possible. She also added that this adaptation helped her be more productive during class time.

Returning students are facing the sudden shift between online learning and in-person learning. Gavin Mpiana ’23, who was virtual in the fall because of travel restrictions, said, “ I needed some time to accommodate the change from online to in-person learning, as everything is new to me and it could be overwhelming for my first few days.” However, he also remarked that he enjoyed his campus life way better than staring at a computer screen all day.

Fourth former Colby Isabelle ’23 takes notes while in math class. Photo by Hunter Sloan ’23.

After being in-person for a short while, Reis became a full-time online student. When asked about his experiences in both environments, Reis shared that he would come back to campus as soon as the opportunity presented itself. “Being an active member of the community made me a better friend and a happier person in general,” he explained. 

Not everyone has been satisfied with Hill’s online experience, and many shared ways that Hill could improve their online system in the coming years. 

Reis expressed his preference for group projects throughout his online class time as he felt the most included working with his partners. “I feel connected to my classmates more when we are working simultaneously on a project,” he added. Reis hopes that there will be more group projects for online students and in-person students to collaborate on in the near future. 

Colby Isabelle ‘23 shared similar views with Reis, as he said that sometimes he can’t even see who’s in his class and who’s talking. “That made me feel a bit excluded especially when I’m the only online student in my class.” Isabelle said, “I like working with my friends a lot more than just working by myself.”

“It’s been hard to feel like I belong to the Hill community when I am not actively participating in school activities,” Griffin said. He also shared that he wished he could have hung out with the in-person students outside of a school environment. He believes this would’ve made him feel more connected to the Hill community through the spring term.