Episode: Behind the story: ‘The test of their lives’


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Behind the story: ‘The test of their lives’
Because of the covid-19 pandemic, 2020 became the first year ever that high-school students across the United States had to take — and prepare for — the AP exam online from their homes rather than in a classroom setting.

This posed unique challenges for schools like Phillip and Sala Burton Academic High School in San Francisco, where more than two-thirds of the students come from low-income families. Eirik Nielsen, an AP history teacher there, let Washington Post education reporter Laura Meckler follow the ups and downs of his teaching life from March through May 2020, as he worked around the clock to remotely support his sophomore students — many of whom have difficult home lives, health issues and limited access to technology and the Internet.

Out of this reporting, Meckler wrote the piece “The test of their lives,” which chronicles the challenges Nielsen and his students faced as the AP exam approached. In this audio episode, listeners can follow her months-long reporting journey for that story. The podcast features interviews with the teacher and several of his students, a look at the process of finding and chronicling their tale, and even the parallel challenge Meckler faced of helping her own two sons with their remote classes while working on this piece.

As schools across the country wrestle with the question of how to best return to teaching in the fall, the story of Nielsen’s class gives us a window into the highs and lows, successes and struggles, that distance learning brings with it.

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Interested in hearing other intimate stories about how the pandemic has reshaped people’s lives? The Washington Post produced a special audio series for the “All Told” podcast, which features first-person accounts from around the country as Americans grapple in different ways with life during the coronavirus. Listen to the episodes here:


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