Attending Harvard-Westlake while managing a disability is difficult, but the school can make the lives of these students easier in establishing a FaceTime program for students to attend class remotely.
Although the Upper School takes pride in maintaining an academically rigorous environment, as it should, this intellectual rigor can often become too competitive or overbearing. As a result, some students may fall behind, despite being intelligent individuals and integral parts of the upper school community.
For example, students who must miss school due to prevailing circumstances often see an unreasonable amount of homework pile up alongside all of the classwork they missed or do not catch necessary announcements.
Allowing students to FaceTime into class would substantially mitigate the impact of missing class. Schools across the United States have integrated such programs into their class environments in various forms, with one extreme example being “remote presence” robots installed in over 1,000 classrooms. Harvard-Westlake does not need elaborate technology in classes like this since students could use apps they already possess on their phone that would serve the same purpose and benefit students in a number of way.
First, students with physical disabilities would benefit from the ability to FaceTime into class since they could consistently be around parent or doctor supervision while keeping up with classwork if they are experiencing symptoms. Additionally, students undergoing preparations for surgeries that are not necessarily ill but have to stay at home could avoid falling behind on work and ease their transition back to school after their procedures.
Next, allowing students to FaceTime into class would also make the lives of individuals with mental disabilities much easier. With the ability to listen to classroom lectures from the comfort of home, these students would be able to get work done in a more welcoming and safe environment. Additionally, it would also give students more leeway in taking time off to prioritize mental health, which help students treat mental health issues like physical health issues.
Beyond just individuals with disabilities, the entire upper school population would benefit from a FaceTime program. Given recent outbreaks of whooping cough, more flexibility with missing school would make students feel less concerned about missing some classes, thus making recovery easier and ensuring other people stay healthy.
There are a number of objections to a FaceTime program like this one. One argument against it is that the ability to FaceTime into class would incentivize students to stay home even when healthy.
However, setting a cap on the amount of FaceTime sessions students with no outstanding medical conditions could participate in would resolve this problem. Additionally, the benefits of empowering disabled students outweighs a slight dip in class attendance, especially since the students not sitting in the classroom will still be participating in a class discussion through FaceTime.
Another objection to letting students FaceTime into class is that the presence of recording cameras would discourage teachers from innovating in class or starting certain discussions. Using FaceTime would not make this an issue because no permanent recording of the lecture exists, but, instead, individual students gain access to classrooms only when the teacher is actually speaking.
This proposal is beneficial especially now given the wave of new technologies tailored to the needs of classrooms and students, such as technology that Stanford Online High School implements with a variety of features empowering teachers rather than inhibiting them.
It is time for Harvard-Westlake to catch up to 21st century technology and increase accessibility of already superb courses.