A Day without Internet at Portola High

Destiny, the online library catalog, shut down due to the lack of internet connection, putting a halt to the book check-out and return system.

Irvine Unified School District experienced a mass internet outage due to issues with the district’s service provider, leaving Portola High students and faculty on campus without Wi-Fi access for the school day on Dec. 10. Internet access was restored later that evening, but teachers and students were forced to improvise for the day.

“I tried to do my best to get the word out, because with the internet down, it also affects our phones,” principal John Pehrson said. “I sent out a school-wide community message from my phone using SchoolMessenger, just a basic communique.”

Teachers who had non-digital lessons planned for the day remained largely unaffected by the Wi-Fi outage. 

“What I am doing in both of my classes in AP Lang involves a paper packet, and I am not some sort of sorcerer who predicted the internet outage. I just got incredibly lucky,” literary and language arts teacher Jill Cavotta said. “We’re going to be flexible.”

Social studies teacher Wind Ralston managed to prepare for the Wi-Fi outage before school started, so his AP U.S. History class went through with the same lesson he had originally planned.

“You always plan for the worst,” Ralston said. “I got here around 6:45, 6:30, and it was still down, but spotty. I was able to print out my handouts and got to my Google Slides offline.”

While not everyone was as lucky, teachers, students and staff alike were able to weave their schedules around any unexpected misfortune. In order to accommodate for such unfavorable circumstances, behavior interventionist Alyssa Rodriguez improvised her tasks throughout the day. 

I think it’s harder because when the internet goes out for a certain teacher, it’s kind of hard to communicate. Especially since all of our live lessons are also online, we don’t get the opportunity to learn from the teacher, and we just have to continue on with our [online] assignments, which sucks.”

— Rhiannon Hawkins

The special education department normally hosts one-on-one virtual sessions that vary from 30 to 40 minutes. Because each student has unique and individualized needs, Rodriguez usually works with the student on forming personal activity goals and working towards them.

“It affected us big actually, because we have a lot of online sessions with our students, and we can’t currently engage in those,” Rodriguez said. “We also have no access to any documents that we need to gain access to or print.”

Typically, behavior interventionists like Rodriguez would have been preparing their online sessions by setting up website tabs and getting virtual materials ready.

“We are cutting [paper] icons for our students, so any physical materials that we can work on, that’s what we’re trying to work on right now,” Rodriguez said. 

Another staff member that faced difficulty carrying on with their day was librarian Melissa Misenhimer, who made use of the Learning Commons. Students in the commons attempted to do tests and assignments, but ultimately needed to opt for non-digital activities like math worksheets instead.

“If there was internet, I would probably be doing a lot of different things,” Misenhimer said. “We just got some new books in, so I would probably be processing those, using our library catalog to add those in.”

Finally, several teachers decided to go completely off-schedule by cancelling their planned lessons. 

Visual and Performing Arts department chair and dance teacher Samantha Gardner had a guest choreographer planned for her students through a Zoom call. However, with the unexpected internet issues, she decided to give her learners a stress-free day.

“Our class might take a little walk around campus,” Gardner said. “We just have to go with the flow and play it by ear. It’s a good time to destress anyway.”

Chemistry teacher Meghan Truax’s original plans for the day involved working on study guides online, but to accommodate the internet outage, the plans were modified to “relaxation day,” consisting of sudoku puzzles, reading, coloring and other activities.

“I think in terms of mental health, this type of a break could be a good thing,” Truax said. “Just having to not think about class or finals and just kind of spending an hour doing something silly and fun like a puzzle. Having a mental break is good and important.”

The internet outage left cohort B and IVA disconnected. Music teacher Kyle Traska resorted to using his mobile hotspot in order to give instructions to cohort B and IVA students, who had their online lessons during the Internet outage. 

[The] cell service out here can be kind of spotty, and so the hotspot went in and out,” Traska said. “I tried to log onto Zoom, but it kept kicking me out, so I just kept repeating in the chat like, ‘Check your announcements on Canvas. Get your assignments done.’”

I think in terms of mental health, this type of a break could be a good thing. Just having to not think about class or finals and just kind of spending an hour doing something silly and fun like a puzzle.”

— Meghan Truax

Sophomore Rhiannon Hawkins, who is enrolled in blended learning, found it difficult to complete online assignments on her own, rather than with the interactive guidance of a teacher. 

I think it’s harder because when the internet goes out for a certain teacher, it’s kind of hard to communicate,” Hawkins said. “Especially since all of our live lessons are also online, we don’t get the opportunity to learn from the teacher, and we just have to continue on with our [online] assignments, which sucks.” 

Senior Kayla Scruggs, in Cohort B, mentioned how the timing of the outage made it difficult for her to get any last-minute lessons or information before her finals.

“Due to the internet outage at school yesterday, it made distance learning much harder,” Scruggs said. “I wasn’t able to communicate with my teachers about upcoming finals on our Zoom or get my work done efficiently because of the spotty internet.” 

Senior Emily Wei is also in Cohort B, but her no-Wi-Fi day went smoother than Scruggs.

“Considering it was a sudden issue, I feel like it was handled pretty well overall,” Wei said. “I just made sure to check Canvas and Classroom to see what my teachers wanted. Because it’s 2020, I honestly wasn’t too surprised that something like this happened.”