TOPS students learn to navigate online school year

Alana Linley's set up for a day of online school. LPS's TOPS program gives students the option to learn completely online during the ongoing pandemic. Image courtesy of Alana Linley.

The beginning of this school year has looked strange for everyone. For some Heritage students, however, school looks even more unusual, even though they’re doing their work from a very familiar place—home. 

On August 31, LPS’s Temporary Online Program for Students (TOPS) began for students who chose to stay completely virtual for the first semester. Like anything new, figuring out the ins and outs of the TOPS program proved to be a bit overwhelming for some students. 

“I think it’s just new in general, so it’s hard to understand it,” Alana Linley ʼ21 explained. “I have to figure things out on my own really quickly and there’s no one here to help me understand what’s happening.” 

Amidst the confusion of figuring out a new system, Alana has found there is plenty of help available for those willing to reach out to the TOPS staff. 

“Contacting them is really easy. They don’t always know the answer, but they figure it out really quickly,” Alana says. 

However, communicating completely virtually still makes things more challenging. 

“It’s harder for me to talk to teachers when I don’t see them face to face… It’s just faster and easier for me to understand things that way,” Alana adds.

For freshman Reid Simmons, a big worry about starting high school virtually was not knowing anyone else doing TOPS this semester. 

“I thought that I was one of my only friends doing online, but since I’ve been doing it I’ve found other people that I knew doing online, which is pretty nice,” Reid explained. 

So far, Reid has also found school to be less draining thanks to the mix of synchronous and asynchronous classes. 

“I like it so far; it’s a lot less stressful, it’s a lot more ‘you do it yourself’,” he says.

Brenna Simmons ʼ22 has also enjoyed the self-paced aspect of the TOPS program so far, specifically for her elective classes. 

“Electives are not teacher taught, but there are teachers that facilitate it so if I need help I can send them an email and they can help me. But I enjoy it if I want to get up and do something different in the morning… and then do my class in the afternoon. I can kind of do it whenever I want as long as I’m turning things in on time.” 

Although generally happy with the self-directed nature of the TOPS program, Brenna described that it can sometimes be a bit overbearing. 

“It gets really overwhelming sometimes,” she recounts. “I have three electives that I’m responsible for, there’s no teachers telling me ‘this is due tomorrow, this is due this time, you should have this done by then’… I have to figure out all that myself.”

Another downside to the TOPS program for Brenna is the loss of community that virtual learning brings. Heritage is still sending TOPS students the “HHS in the Know” emails to keep them connected and informed, which is a nice way to keep the community together as Brenna explains. But it’s just not the same. 

“There’s this sense of, when you don’t see people at school, you kind of lose that sense of community and I’m just kind of in my room by myself all day. Calls are something to do to see people, but you don’t really see people, you just listen to the teacher talk. It gets kind of lonely,” Brenna says.

Alana has had similar feelings as she faces this new school year. While discussing all the changes and the emotions that come with them, she explained, “It hasn’t been the easiest thing in the world, because I definitely miss school, which I never thought I’d say. But I do know… this is just the better option right now, at least for me.” 

The 2020-21 school year will undoubtedly be a strange school year for everyone, especially for seniors who were looking forward to enjoying their last year of high school. But students like Alana have kept pushing forward. Although this school year is far from normal, Alana plans to make the most of it in every way. 

“Not having all the senior stuff is really awful, but, I mean, there’s nothing else I can really do, so I’ve accepted it and I’m going to make what I can out of it,” Alana says.

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