For Some Sophomores, it May Feel Like Freshman Year

After spending their entire freshman year in the eLearning format, Pali sophomores continue to adjust to their first year of high school on campus. Students have been forced to transition to seven-hour school days and 100-minute classes, a stark contrast to the four-hour school days and 60-minute classes they were used to on Zoom. 

As they struggle to adapt, sophomores are also faced with the harsh realities of Advanced Placement (AP) classes at Pali, which many believe have only added more stress to a year full of change.

Sophomores spent their last full year of in-person learning as seventh graders and are now expected to step into sophomore year enrolled in college-level courses. Common AP classes for sophomores include AP World History, AP European History and AP Biology, which frequently feature timed essays and assessments and hours upon hours of reading — tasks foreign to many of these students.

“My AP class definitely hit me hard because right now I’m sitting at 70.1 percent [in] AP World,” Pali sophomore Flynn Messick said. “It definitely did hit me harder because in freshman year I didn’t really have to do anything.”

He added that “Mr. [Steven] Burr is a great teacher, but he’s grading us on our ability to teach ourselves, and I’m not too good at teaching myself right now.” Messick said that he finds it challenging to keep up with the fast-paced curriculum of AP classes, especially after having shorter classes and more time to complete assignments on a daily basis, which was the norm in the online setting last school year.

Pali sophomore Taylor Gair said that she feels an unwavering sense of unfamiliarity in the school. “My freshman year felt like nothing,” she said. “I still think I’m in eighth grade, to be honest. Taking AP’s feeling like that is really nerve-wracking. This is like an intro year to me, because freshman year was so easy. I barely did anything. All of my teachers gave me time to finish homework in class so I never had homework.”

Gair said that she is trying her best to survive sophomore year while drowning in AP work, finding it particularly challenging to complete tests with no more than a minute per question, as well as taking weekly chapter notes, which can consume up to six hours of her time. Add in time for extracurricular activities, and it’s easy to understand the ongoing struggle.

“It’s a really big adjustment,” Gair said. “If I had some sort of experience in freshman year, then it would be easier to adjust now, but I didn’t have that.”

Despite these difficulties, Gair said that her “teachers are extremely supportive, and the leniency that teachers allow this year is incredibly helpful when it comes to giving [her] time to understand and take in what [she] learns in class.”

Similarly, Messick, who admits to having had a difficult time working efficiently on Zoom, said that he appreciates the increased accessibility to teachers and academic resources while attending in-person school. 

“It’s easier now to ask the teacher questions because you’re not put on a spotlight in front of your whole class,” he said. “On Zoom, you were unmuted and you were talking equally to everyone, but here you can have an in-person, one-on-one conversation.”

However, sophomores are not alone in navigating through this transition from eLearning. Pali teachers Christopher Berry and Fabian Aguilar said they aim to be a source of support and guidance for students, some of whom may be struggling with time management.

“I have done much more checking for understanding and have definitely been repeating basic information to remind [sophomores] of what it is like to be in a classroom again,” said Berry, who teaches AP European History. “This is helpful for me too, as I have forgotten some basics and am getting used to the classroom after a year and a half.”

Aguilar, a Pali math teacher, said he is trying to accommodate his students by implementing lenient make-up work policies and by reducing their workload. 

“I am trying to be as flexible as possible in terms of letting students who miss work make it up,” Aguilar said. “I have been cutting down the number of class activities that I would like to do in order to make sure that I don’t overwhelm students that need extra time to understand and digest new topics.”

Aguilar acknowledged the difficulties endured by the sophomore class upon their return to campus, saying,“I definitely see that many [sophomore] students have gaps in their learning,” and that spending their freshman year online is to blame. 

Both Aguilar and Berry encourage students who find themselves lost in their school work to seek help through on-campus resources if they are feeling overwhelmed by new and advanced curriculums and teaching styles, citing academic resources like the Math Lab, Study Center and teachers’ office hours.

Sophomores are also growing accustomed to the new on-campus social environment that came with a return to the in-person activities that were not possible during their freshman year.

Sophomore Class President Rustin Kharrazi said that a number of sophomores, who are eagerly awaiting new social events for their class, have reached out to him through the class of 2024 Instagram account. 

Kharrazi said, “I think that because we’ve been so deprived of a high school experience, [sophomores] want [social] events to try and bring people together, and that’s what I’m trying to focus on.” He said he believes that uniting the class through fundraisers, football games and school dances will help students form connections and make friends in the midst of this transitory school year.

Gair agrees, saying: “I did not have this much freedom … a year ago, because these events weren’t an option. I’m definitely excited to get to know more people.”

As the sophomore class continues to adjust to their new classes and on-campus learning, Kharrazi said he remains optimistic about the future of the school year, explaining that “by coming together to build a stronger community among the sophomore class, I’m confident that we [sophomores] will have fun this year and feel supported.”