Tuning out the distractions while learning from home

Cherokee’s valedictorian, salutatorian stay connected with academics

Valedictorian Katrina Le reads a speech during the Cherokee graduation. (Isabella DiAmore/The Sun)

Roll out of bed to hit the 7 a.m. alarm. Open up the Chromebook to start another day of virtual school.

That was a daily routine for the seniors at Cherokee High School, who had to learn and adjust during unpredictable times this year.

“We had half-days of school; it’s two hours earlier than I’m used to,” said Cherokee valedictorian Katrina Le. “I do have more time to do my work, but that also comes with time management.”

An altered school schedule and adjustments in planning for assignments were difficult changes for Le and Cherokee’s salutatorian, Emily Smith, but the transition instilled a strong work ethic and determination in both to keep their ranks at the top of the senior class. 

Earlier in the school year, Le found herself procrastinating on assignments and submitting them closer to deadline. She then realized to be academically successful in a virtual environment, she should schedule her readings, projects and classwork assignments ahead of time. 

“Maintaining grades was more difficult, mainly because it’s kind of harder to pay attention once you’re online,” Le explained. “There are so many distractions. Your phone is right next to you, and you just want to go on your phone, as opposed to in class, where you have to listen.”

The distractions led Le to structure time for assignments and FaceTme calls with friends, which she believed held her accountable for school work done earlier in the day.   

While the in person connection was missing, Le and Smith didn’t see a change in their AP and honors courses this year. But both found it difficult to ask for extra help on assignments.  

“Whenever I had an issue or wanted to go over something with my teacher that I wasn’t really sure about, it’s definitely more difficult when I’m on one side of the computer and they’re in school,” Smith noted. “I really navigated and tried to stay in communication with my teachers as much as possible, whether that meant emailing them or trying to set up a Zoom meeting.”

Smith also noticed a change in her group discussion base classes, like English literature and Latin. In a normal school year, she would walk into her English classroom and gather with others in a circle on the floor for a group chat on what each student was reading. But Smith found with online school, participation was weird and awkward.   

“In English, the overall kind of way the class works is different online,” Smith said. “Annotating books for example — so you have to get the book and type up annotations since everything would have to be done via computer and you can’t hand in anything. So now it’s an extra time element.”

But ranking at the top of their class was worth the extra amount of work, and once the two scholars found out about that academic achievement, it was a pleasant surprise. 

Le and Smith made it their goal early in high school to take higher-level courses and thrive in classes. While the roles of valedictorian and salutatorian weren’t on their minds, ranking in the top 10 percent of the class was, Smith recalled.   

“In 10th grade, I got this first-place award, so I knew in 10th grade where I stood,” Le said. “In 11th grade, I didn’t, so that’s why this year was like a little bit of a surprise.” 

Le will attend Boston’s Northeastern University in the fall to study bioengineering on a pre-med health track. As for Smith, she’ll study corporate finance and accounting at Bentley University in Waltham, Massachusetts.

Although Cherokee seniors had other activities canceled, Le and Smith were grateful for the senior prom.  

“It was really weird, because I haven’t, like, seen people in 15 months. All of a sudden there’s everyone,” Smith recalled. “It was really nice though. I saw people that I hadn’t seen in forever, I got to talk to people and take pictures with people and catch up.”

As Class of 2021 members set out for new lives after high school, Le hopes they will remember to make time for family and friends, 1the things that turn into lifelong memories.

“There’s a lot of people trying to plan life, and obviously things are going to get in the way of those plans,” Smith said. “After this year, we’ve definitely kind of seen how things can pop up, but just keep going. We’ve made it through, so keep going and you’re going to make it.”

Cherokee’s seniors graduated on June 18.