Finding our voices and research skills during the pandemic

In a year that many considered a lost one, we have learned a great deal.

We have learned that we have many gifts and talents. We got better at our hobbies and discovered new hobbies too. We have learned that we are good at participating – we can cook for our families and take good care of our siblings. We learned to fix things and do chores properly. We have also learned to manage our time, avoid procrastination, take care of ourselves and love, and appreciate and appreciate the present.

Our school lives have been transformed just as much. We are members of the Student Advisory Council of the UCLA Community School. When the coronavirus changed life as we knew it, we came together to make sure student voices were heard as our school transitioned to online learning.

Our director, Leyda Garcia, asked us to do a research project on our situation. In doing so, we were able to shape our teachers ‘and administrators’ understanding of our experience with the school during a pandemic and lead efforts to improve it.

We started last fall by designing and running a bilingual online survey for students. Over 60% of our peers responded. We spent weeks analyzing the results, figuring out how the different groups of students were doing, and how best to share what we found. We learned how to code students’ open-ended responses with the help of a UCLA researcher and analyze this data.

We’ve found ways to show our results through tables, word clouds, and charts. We have found, for example, that our peers have struggled to balance a number of additional responsibilities outside of school due to the pandemic. Like us, the students shared that they had to take care of their younger siblings or older parents, cook and do the housework because their parents were working. Some have taken on paid jobs – in some cases more than one job – to support their families.

We found that students, depending on their level, differed in the usefulness of the resources provided by the school, i.e. internet access points, computers, breaks during lessons, allowing late work, meditation / yoga. We also held focus groups at the school level to deepen our understanding of students’ feelings about what they were learning and how they were learning.

In addition to gaining skills as researchers, we gained insight into our community and online learning. Although it is a difficult time for everyone, we have found that our wants and needs are necessarily different.

Some students want to experience more engaging homework and have expressed that they spend too much time doing “busy work.”

Others disagreed and felt that the homework was right under the circumstances and that they were able to spend more time thinking and exploring topics that interested them.

Conclusion: it is difficult for our teachers to please everyone!

Analyzing student data led us to consider our teachers. To understand their experience, we designed a survey that gave us a better appreciation of the tremendous effort they put into creating a space where we can continue to connect with each other and build a strong community.

We began to understand the incredible and difficult job they have to manage their own families while teaching us and keeping us engaged. Armed with this new understanding, we launched a “turn on your camera” campaign and encouraged our peers to turn on their video cameras during distance learning on a particular day and time to show our appreciation.

In all the groups we interviewed, all agreed on this point: we miss our community itself the most.

We have also learned that empathy and appreciation will be integral to how our community moves forward. As one student shared in a focus group, “We need to be grateful to each other. In particular, we have learned that, even in these difficult times, our teachers continue to be there for us and are eager to hear our voices.

Director Garcia invited us to share our findings with the entire staff at their weekly professional development meeting. In the Zoom workshops, we held discussions and answered many questions from teachers about the needs and concerns of our fellow students. It felt good to share the information we found and help our teachers see it and learn from it like we did.

Even though it was scary talking to so many adults, speaking on behalf of our peers was empowering and exciting.

The teachers were grateful for our efforts. One explained that learning from us can help establish the culture in school and “let us be human” during these times. Another teacher said that she had learned that she was to give “grace to our children and to ourselves”.

This year has been far from ideal, but it has not been lost. We have learned so much about ourselves and our school community. We have learned that our voices matter and that we have the power to collect information, communicate it, and make things better – for us and for the whole school. These are lessons that will stay with us for life.

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Gustavo Aguilar, Alex Alejo, Guadalupe Laureano Carranza, Jamie-Lynn Juco, Nareli juquilita lopez and Adriana Rios-Cruz are students in grades 9 to 12 through UCLA Community School, a K-12 public school co-located on the campus of the Robert F. Kennedy Community Schools in Los Angeles. Students of color make up 99% of the student body.

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Paul N. Strickland

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