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Yellow Springs High School AP calculus students smile from the safety of their homes during a virtual class held recently on Google Meet. From left to right, top row: senior Abby McAnerney, junior Arielle Johnson, senior Evelyn Potter and junior Finn Bledsoe (face not shown); second row: seniors Jane Meister, Krista Romohr (face not shown), Olivia Snoddy and Phillip Diamond; third row: seniors Sam Nielsen, Sean Adams, Solomon Shemano (face not shown) and teacher Tamara Morrison; bottom row: Vaughn Hendrickson.

Class of the pandemic— Coping with altered endings

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By Phillip Diamond

Members of the Yellow Springs High School Class of 2020 were born soon after September 11, 2001, entering a world shocked to the core and deeply wounded.

Now, seniors are graduating into a world stripped bare by a pandemic.

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They would have been celebrating the culmination of 12 to 13 years of consistent effort and determination. But rather than valiantly marching on to the next grand step in the journey of life, this year’s seniors simply drift, slowly floating over the line that marks the end of high school.

The absence of a formal end to senior year highlighted everything that is normally taken for granted: clap-out, senior prank, painting bricks, saying goodbye to teachers and other classmates, ceremonies within school clubs, graduation and more.

In recent interviews, YSHS seniors Sam Nielsen, Lucy Anderson and Sean Adams shared their experiences over the last six weeks managing socialization, academia and shattered senior year hopes.

A new social reality

Adams, who works as a food server at Young’s, has turned particularly to group text chats and online video games to stay connected to friends.

Overall, Adams’ quarantine experience “hasn’t been too bad,” he said, adding that working at Young’s provides a healthy social environment. Still, there has been boredom.

“There’s nothing else to do, really, other than take walks with [my] family,” he said.

Adams uses an app called Discord to communicate with friends while gaming, which provides a social outlet as well as a competitive edge. His group chats are through Instagram, a social media platform where users post images and can chat privately in groups as well.

However, for other seniors, virtual communication has been a feeble replacement for the normal high school atmosphere. It can also be unusually draining, they said.

“When things changed, it was a really rough adjustment [for me] and much harder than I thought it would be,” Anderson explained.

Anderson emphasized the value of a physical school building, saying how school was “a great way to meet people and to talk to people.” With no common location, social ties in the senior class have begun to loosen simply because seniors have to work harder to communicate with one another. And although social media provides a means of communication, Anderson described how she “[doesn’t] always have the motivation or the energy to reach out to people,” a sentiment shared by other seniors.

Sam Nielsen also reflected on the social impact of leaving school.

“School is pretty much the only place to see people,” he observed, then touched on a simple truth: “How am I supposed to reminisce with my buddies without … my buddies?”

After spending over a decade with their classmates, some members of the class of 2020 won’t see each other again. As Nielsen put it, “this is the time where we’re wrapping everything up, and there’s not been any sense of conclusion. … It’s kind of anticlimactic. There’s no send-off, there’s no ‘good job guys!’… it’s just, ‘see you later.’”

Academic challenges

Seniors are finishing out the last schoolwork of the year in a different manner than was previously imagined. Those taking less than three advanced placement, or AP, classes must complete each week’s “thematic online learning” to earn credit that counts for all of their classes.

The thematic curriculum is taken from a company called InquirED, and each week has a specific theme that all work falls under. According to its website, InquirED only offers learning plans for “early learners” and “intermediate learners.” However, YSHS has applied their weekly themes to the high school setting as well.

Most recently, the theme for the week of April 27–May 1 was centered around the question, “How can we take positive action to support and encourage our community during difficult times?” For the week of May 3–7, students will focus on the question, “How do the things we use connect us to people and places around the world?”

Seniors taking three or more AP classes are exempt from the thematic learning, and instead must attend online check-ins for each of their classes once or twice a week to receive credit. Check-ins occur on the Google Meet platform, and teachers have set up required meeting times on weekdays. The happenings of the check-ins vary by teacher, though they’re all focused on preparing for the upcoming AP exams taking place May 11–22.

Usually, a check-in will review the AP test format, review any homework assigned the previous meeting, then assign new homework. While there is some in-person instruction, check-ins happen much less frequently than regular classes would have on a normal school schedule. Seniors also have the option to set up individual meetings with teachers if they are confused or need support.

This form of learning has proved difficult for some students. Anderson, who is exempt from the thematic work while studying for her AP exams in calculus, English literature and U.S. history, shared how much more of the educational responsibility has fallen on seniors themselves rather than teachers.

“When you’re basically your own teacher, it’s a lot harder to be disciplined and productive,” she said.

And while weekly or biweekly check-ins do happen, there is drastically less face-to-face instruction in the age of quarantine, others noted. Adams, who is taking AP calculus, AP chemistry, and AP English literature, expressed concern about this.

“I’m really anxious about it, because I know I’m not learning as much as I should be for AP tests,” he said.

Additionally, any learning mindsets students have associated with the physical school environment have vanished. Now, they must adapt to the new, and sometimes distracting, learning environment in their homes.

Adams was also dismayed by the fact that students cannot participate in any of their non-AP classes, all of which were replaced by thematic learning.

Adams was taking an aeronautical engineering class, and was disappointed about not having any work for it anymore. Other seniors who were taking at least three AP classes as well as high school classes now must focus solely on their AP classes or on the thematic learning, with no other options.

Several of those interviewed also shared an enhanced awareness of the value of education, and those who perpetuate it, the teachers, who they acknowledged have worked hard to adapt in real time to a style of teaching they have never used before. 

After graduation

The reach of the pandemic is not limited to seniors’ high school lives; it has extended into their future.

College plans have been upended during one of the most crucial times in the decision process. Seniors are prevented from visiting colleges they’ve been accepted to, hindering their judgment about where to go. Additionally, there’s no guarantee seniors will even matriculate in the fall, as past students have done for nearly a century.

Despite it all, the class of 2020 persists, united by a common separation.

“Somehow I feel closer to everyone through this experience, even though we are all away from each other,” Anderson said. “The Class of 2020 will go down in history as one of the most strong and resilient classes ever.”

*Phillip Diamond is a YSHS senior interning at the News.

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One Response to “Class of the pandemic— Coping with altered endings”

  1. Elin Diamond says:

    I’m extremely proud of my nephew Phillip Diamond, who so eloquently expresses what students everywhere are feeling. Many of the undergraduates at Rutgers University, where I teach, share the feeling of “drift,” of “slowly floating over the line” marked by a commencement they’re not allowed to have. Great work, Phillip!

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