Social distancing deconstructs engineering classrooms



Concerns grow regarding the possibility of returning to in-person learning.

With hopes to return to the physical classroom eventually, some students at Clark Magnet High School are starting to have concerns about the outlook of in-person instruction. Teachers will have to operate their classrooms under the guidelines outlined by the State of California’s COVID-19 response: socially distanced classrooms, frequent sanitation and wearing masks at all times. 

However, this may become a challenge when taking into consideration the large class sizes that have been normalized in online school. “We have 40 students in my period, which in my opinion is far too many,” said junior Ethan Tobey, an Engineering 3-4 student. A high student-to-teacher ratio limits the interaction between an individual with their instructor and also puts a strain on the resources available to students in such a hands-on class. 

At the moment, it seems impossible to have classes in person while also balancing the class sizes without breaking the current health regulations. But students do hope to return to in-person instruction soon since Engineering is an extremely involved class.

With those aspects of the class being currently out of the question, there is little left to actually do in those classes. “I learn stuff, but I was really looking forward to making things,” said junior Eve Klem. “I’m in Engineering and Manufacturing, you know? Kinda sad I can’t do anything with manufacturing.”

Such classes were supposed to give students an opportunity to work with 3D printing, CNC machining, robotics and programming. These are all, for the most part, impractical to do remotely, since students cannot access expensive equipment within the school. There is simply not enough one can do in an online environment when manufacturing is one of the main attractions of the class. 

On the other hand, returning students to a physical classroom in full force is complicated because of material constraints but also further complicated by space constraints. Some classrooms are simply not large enough to accommodate large groups of students, and this problem extends far past the engineering department.

“I definitely do not feel comfortable having more than 20 students in a class,” said junior Emika Davis. “The main building classrooms are probably going to be unable to fit our Zoom classes of 40 into one room while maintaining social distance.” Alongside Tobey, Davis shares concerns of large class sizes getting in the way of learning and safety.

Individual learning naturally becomes too difficult as classes require smaller groups. But even getting students into the classroom into the first place stands to be a challenge. Animation Teacher Anthony Lockhart isn’t really sure how it would work. “Let’s just say you decrease class sizes by one half, that means you need to have double the teachers to teach,” Lockhart said. “Or that could mean that you need classes to be half as long. So, this is definitely quite the predicament. There’s never an easy answer to a complex question.

Junior Anton Fajardo thinks that there are some reasonable solutions to alleviate a lot of the stress of returning back to school: “I think the district has the energy and resources to provide students with the materials and space they need,” Fajardo said. Fajardo suggests that students can take turns doing different projects in the classroom to maintain social distance while also giving them the individualized learning experience they require.