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NYC 8th-grader has advice for Mayor Bill de Blasio and other leaders: Here's why I'm learning so much better online than in my out-of-control city school
A public school stands closed on April 14 in Brooklyn because of the coronavirus pandemic. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

NYC 8th-grader has advice for Mayor de Blasio and other leaders: Here's why I'm learning so much better online than in my out-of-control city school

'Something is wrong with our system'

Veronique Mintz is a 13-year-old eighth-grader who attends a New York City school.

And she's fed up — fed up with her classmates, her teachers, her education.

Well, she was — until the coronavirus pandemic hit, closing the schools and forcing New York City students into online-only education.

Now Veronique says she's thriving.

In an op-ed for the New York Times on Tuesday, Veronique told the world her educational woes and how her schooling has markedly improved since the forced closures.

What's her story?

The young teen wrote that the biggest obstacle in her education has been sitting in classrooms where students misbehave and teachers can't or won't get a handle on it.

Veronique said an observer could be excused for thinking any of her classes were filled with 9-year-olds rather than teenagers:

Talking out of turn. Destroying classroom materials. Disrespecting teachers. Blurting out answers during tests. Students pushing, kicking, hitting one another and even rolling on the ground. This is what happens in my school every single day.

You may think I'm joking, but I swear I'm not.

Based on my peers' behavior, you might guess that I'm in second or fourth grade. But I'm actually about to enter high school in New York City, and, during my three years of middle school, these sorts of disruptions occurred repeatedly in any given 42-minute class period.

But since she started distance learning on March 23, Veronique has found that she has been learning more — and learning it more easily — than she ever did in class. For her, it's easy to understand why.

"I can work at my own pace without being interrupted by disruptive students and teachers who seem unable to manage them," she said.

She said that instead of taking tests on subjects the class hasn't mastered because teachers are unable to get through the necessary lessons, she's able to focus, learn the material, and appropriately master a subject before moving on. It helps that at home, things are more peaceful, rather than in the various classrooms at her public school where "only a few teachers who had strong command of their classrooms — enforcing consistent rules, treating students fairly and earning their respect."

Add to that the frustration she feels when her teachers would assign "collaborative learning" — a major emphasis in many public schools where work is done as part of a teacher-assigned group of four or five kids. Often, higher-performing kids are put into groups with lower-performing kids.

This type of "learning," as Veronique noted, "forces students who want to complete their assignments into the position of having to discipline peers who won't behave and coax reluctant group members into contributing."

But with distance learning, students have more control over their studies, she said, adding:

I can focus more time on subjects that require greater effort and study. I don't have to sit through a teacher fielding questions that have already been answered. I can still collaborate with other students, but much more effectively. I am really enjoying FaceTiming friends who bring different perspectives and strengths to the work; we challenge one another and it's a richer learning experience.

Veronique has also found that she prefers some teachers' recorded lessons over their in-person lessons: Teachers, she said, didn't have patience for questions because a third of class time was spent "trying to maintain order"; plus, when she did try to meet with a teacher before school, there was usually a "pileup" of other students who also had questions — and sometimes the teacher just wasn't there.

"Often, when I scheduled time to meet with him before school, there would be a pileup at his door of students who also had questions. He couldn't help us all in 20 minutes before first period," she wrote. "Other times he just wouldn't show up."

Now Veronique has found that learning at home saves time and frustration. She can rewatch teachers' video lessons, attend teachers' online office hours, and attend question-and-answer sessions without crowds of other students.

According to Veronique, the success of distance learning shows that the city's school system has a problem — but she has some suggestions:

The fact that I am learning so much better away from the classroom shows that something is wrong with our system. Two weeks ago, my school began experimenting with live video teaching on Google Meet. Unfortunately, the same teachers who struggle to manage students in the classroom also struggle online.

What lessons from remote learning can be taken back to the classroom? I have a few suggestions. First, teachers should send recorded video lessons to all students after class (through email or online platforms like Google Classroom). Second, teachers should offer students consistent, weekly office hours of ample time for 1-to-1 or small group meetings. Third, teachers who are highly skilled in classroom management should be paid more to lead required trainings for teachers, plus reinforcement sessions as needed.

Hopefully, Veronique wrote, New York City's schools will learn something through all of this and use this time to "improve the learning experience of all their students."

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