MCPS adapts to unprecedented circumstances


Photo courtesy of U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command

The recent outbreak of COVID-19 has created a time of uncertainty and unpredictability. Large school systems like MCPS have been faced with the challenge of adapting to a new normal and continuing learning for students from home.

Governor Larry Hogan announced Thursday, March 12 that all Maryland public schools will be closed from March 16-27, later extended on March 25 to go through at least April 24 due to the outbreak of COVID-19 in the state. The announcement was abrupt, leaving both students and teachers uncertain as to what would happen in the following weeks.

It was announced on March 13, the last day of school, that teachers couldn’t assign any new material, only supplemental work, due to concerns raised about student access to technology for doing work during the initial closure. One in 10 students in MCPS don’t have access to technology at home.

This troubled many students and teachers in AP classes, as prior to the closure, the College Board had neither postponed nor cancelled the AP exams for May.

“Even though teachers are not allowed to assign mandatory work, I gave my AP students some AP review to work on during the break,” physics teacher Adam Zeitlin said.

The College Board later announced on March 20 that AP exams will be offered as online, 45-minute free response exams which students will take at home. They also announced that the exams will focus on topics students were able to learn prior to the closures in March. While the new exam format is more accessible considering the circumstances, concerns have been raised about cheating and unfair advantages.

“I really don’t think it’s gonna work because everyone is going to try to cheat. It’s uncontrolled testing,” junior Quinn Harris said.

Cancellations extend past the scope of in-school work. The March 14 SAT was able to take place at WJ as planned, but the College Board announced on March 16 that they are cancelling the upcoming May 2 exam, in addition to the already postponed in-school SAT on March 25. The ACT planned for April 4 was also cancelled. The June 6 SAT is still scheduled to take place. These cancellations are leaving juniors worried about when and how they will be taking their standardized tests this year, and prompting many schools to consider moving to test-optional admissions for the class of 2021..

“I just worry that juniors are at a disadvantage because they may have less opportunities to take the SAT and ACT this year,” junior Venus Latifian said.

The extended hiatus from learning also left some concerned over whether MCPS is behind other schools in the country. Many public and private schools have adopted online schooling modules, which MCPS had yet to do. This has left people worried, due to the likely event of an extended closure. MCPS finally addressed these concerns in a message sent out to the community on March 20.

“While state officials have only announced a two-week emergency closure at this time, we are anticipating and actively preparing for the very real possibility of an extended closure. We expect to hear from our state officials in the coming days,” the statement said.

After the extension to the closure was announced, MCPS began to prepare for “remote learning.” They set up Chromebook distribution so that students without access to a computer at home could use one to keep up with school. Teachers began sending messages to their students about what was to come.

Remote learning began on Monday, March 30. Teachers had to complete training and plan for the upcoming week\; meanwhile, students began to become acquainted with the new materials. Many teachers messaged their students detailing what the upcoming week would look like, including calls over Zoom and AP Classroom lessons.

Staff are utilizing new technology to push out these lessons, such as webinars over Zoom, modules through Canvas and Google Meet. These are quite an adjustment for students and staff who are unfamiliar with them.

Another new change is the SGA and Class Officer elections. The elections were supposed to take place at school on April 1, but now the voting will be taking place electronically via online ballots and videos sent by Principal Jennifer Baker to students’ email addresses. The date for the elections has not yet been announced.

“What’s going on is really unpredictable and everyone’s working in uncharted territory,” SGA Secretary candidate, junior Paulina Matzkin said.

While it may take time for students and staff to adjust to this new kind of normal, most of the community is looking to make do with what we have in these uncertain times.