While enthusiasts for online learning predict a boom after the pandemic, as students and teachers get used to learning at home online, the reality is different on the ground. Stress, loneliness, and boredom are typical reactions.

A team of reporters in Los Angeles reports on student reactions to the loss of face-to-face instruction.

A senior at John C. Fremont High School in South L.A., Emilio Hernandez has a class load that is about as rigorous as it gets: AP calculus, physics, design, English, engineering and government. He loves talking to his peers in English class, who make all the readings thought-provoking. He often turns to his math teacher, who has a way of drawing the graphs and walking him through derivatives and complex formulas.

Now, with a borrowed laptop from school and family crowded in the living room, he’s struggling to make school feel like, well, school. He has trouble falling asleep and finds himself going to bed later and later — sometimes as late as 3 a.m.

“Assignments that would normally take me two hours or 30 minutes are now taking me days to complete. I just … can’t focus,” he said. “I don’t have anyone giving me direction. It’s just me reading and having to give myself the incentive to do the work.”

It’s been three weeks since school districts across the state have closed their campuses as the novel coronavirus continues to sweep its way across California — sending more than 6 million students home to navigate online, or distance, learning. What started as an emergency scramble to provide laptops and meals for a few weeks has dramatically shifted to a longer-haul transformation of public education.

“The kids are not going back to their classrooms” this academic year, said Gov. Gavin Newsom, who acknowledged the burden on households with the entire state under his stay-at-home order.

For those who look to school for learning and social structure, the new reality is sinking in: There will be no school as we know it after spring break. No prom. No year-end field trips. No projects to present inside a familiar classroom. Navigating the three months left in the school year, leaders said, calls for patience and dedication from educators, self-motivation from already stressed-out students and swift actions from school districts typically mired in bureaucratic obstacles.

“These aren’t normal circumstances. It’s the most uncharted territory that we’ve been in,” said State Supt. of Public Instruction Tony Thurmond. “We’re stronger together and we can help all of our kids as we work together.”

Many are already rising to the challenge. Yet each step forward means moving past bureaucratic hurdles and cost constraints and taking on persistent problems of student poverty and stubborn achievement gaps…

Overwhelmed. Unmotivated. Stressed. Stressed. Stressed.

These were the words that popped up over and over again on social media and in conversations among students across Los Angeles during a recent virtual town hall with a Times reporter and Heart of Los Angeles, a nonprofit organization in MacArthur Park that provides free after-school programming for underserved youth. About two dozen students shared just how complicated distance learning can be.

Many said that their homes were crowded enough already, and that school and after-school programs were their sanctuaries — a place to escape. Others worried not only about their grades but about the well-being of their families. Some students have been using their own savings to get food for themselves and younger siblings to avoid stressing out family members.