An Academic Checkpoint



It has been more than eight months since the pandemic started early this year. While Lakeside students adjust to continuous uncertainty, weighing priorities such as participating in club sports, socializing within guidelines, and blended learning on campus, all still share a common commitment in academics. How has the pandemic affected academic circumstances and choices? In some areas, change has been marginal; in other areas, drastic.

This investigation starts with Lakeside’s Summer School Program, one of the first academic structures to feel the impact of COVID-19. Ms. Yorks, director of the Summer School Program, notes that the pandemic has mostly served to accelerate trends from previous years. For instance, Summer School enrollment has jumped 29%, from 246 students last year to 316 students this year. In particular, there has been a marked increase in freshman enrollment: this summer, 63% of freshmen took a summer school course, up from 48% last summer. Some courses also saw a spike in popularity. Computer Science II and III, a course offered starting last year, was the most popular Summer School class, with 36 students. It was followed by Biology, Algebra II, and World History I — mainly classes for freshmen. Many seniors (36 of them, in fact) also signed up for the College Application Essay course in order to prepare for their coming college application process.

Ms. Yorks is pleased with how Lakeside’s Summer School has adapted to the pandemic. She says that most students have had “a positive experience, and the classes I sat in on were innovative and engaging.” Furthermore, in a trend mirrored by Lakeside’s school-year curriculum, Ms. Yorks notes that “many teachers transitioned traditional assessments to project-based assessments.”

There are several factors behind the inflated sign-up numbers. For one, students didn’t have to commute to campus this year, giving them more geographic flexibility. In addition, some students registered for summer school after their summer travel plans, camps, and other extracurricular activities were cancelled.

Fall course selections also showed new trends, including an increased number of course changes. Mr. de Grys, Lakeside Academic Dean and Upper School Assistant Director, says that there were 286 official student requests for course changes, plus about 100 additional changes requested by Lakeside teachers/staff – slightly more than usual. Incidentally, students’ course change wishes seemed to align; Mr. de Grys was able to fill 223 of the discretionary requests, a higher success rate than usual (“because I’m AWESOME!” he adds).

Mr. de Grys has also noticed changes in course selection patterns. Demand for Computer Science courses has increased, and Lakeside has been gradually increasing the number of CS teachers over the past few years. Lakeside started with one half-time computer science teacher; now, says Mr. de Grys, “we have 1.5 CS teachers, and we may add more if there is sustained interest.” Besides CS, a few other elective classes such as Psychology, Genocide, and Organic Chemistry were also over-subscribed too. In general, Mr. de Grys comments, “students have been migrating towards wanting more classes in ethnic studies, social sciences, natural and applied sciences, computer science, and classes with a GSL component.” However, Mr. de Grys believes that the pandemic has not caused any major changes: “All of the variations for this year are consistent with short-term random fluctuations and also long-term trends.”

What do Lakeside students have to say about academics this year? For one, they are certainly spending a lot of time on it. Data gathered in the Tatler Poll from 128 respondents show that, excluding synchronous class time, students are averaging three hours per day on coursework. Students also felt that academics have become more challenging: around 60% of polled students say classes are becoming harder, whereas the other 40% say that the level of difficulty has remained the same as compared to last year. Of course, this is partially due to higher grade levels being more challenging, but students think teachers have also assigned a greater workload during these past two months. Around two-thirds of students say that they will need to spend more effort on academics to be satisfied with their performance as the first quarter ends; apparently, students have not lost their academic drive.

One would expect student learning to be dramatically disrupted by COVID-19. However, from summer course enrollments to fall semester course selections to student opinions on remote learning, Lakesiders are showing their resilience and perseverance. Students continue to challenge themselves academically, preparing to be members of a global society. As the first quarter ends, now is the time to reflect and evaluate ourselves — how have we been studying in these past several months? Everyone is familiar with the cliché “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.” While it is hard to measure if the pandemic is making us stronger, it certainly is making us study harder.