Though more and more Americans are getting vaccinated to guard against COVID-19, the pandemic rages on, even rising in some places. Moreover, its impact is still being felt daily by individuals of all ages. For high school seniors, the pandemic has flavored every aspect of their school year since day one, making them, for better or worse, the “Class of COVID.”
The Defender spoke with Dua Rashid and Anana Walker, Lamar High School students who chose to do their senior year virtually, and Marshall Reynolds who experienced in-person classes at Willowridge. These three soon-to-be high school graduates and fall 2021 college freshmen shared their takes on the challenging 2020-21 school year.
HOW DID YOU CHOOSE TO DO SCHOOL THIS YEAR
DUA RASHID: I chose to do school virtually, just because I wanted to take every safety precaution that I could. Both my parents are older. And so, COVID does affect older people more since their immune system is much different than someone who’s younger. So, I just wanted to be respectful and acknowledge that. And also, Lamar is a very populated school. We have many, many students. So, for safety for me, I wanted to make sure that I wasn’t surrounded by multiple students a day. And there are so many variables that play into it. Not everybody wears the mask properly or sanitizes their hands. So, I chose virtual because I wanted to be as safe as possible. And I knew my home could provide that.
ANANA WALKER: I also chose to do school virtually because of safety precautions that are here at home. And I also wanted to be comfortable. I felt that senior year is my year. I just wanted to get all my work done and make sure everything was completed to the best of my ability. And I felt that I could do that here at home.
MARSHALL REYNOLDS: I chose to do school face-to-face this year. One of the main reasons why I chose face-to-face was because I didn’t want this year to be different from the others. I wanted to make sure I got the full senior year experience, and then at the same time, make sure that we’re following all the rules, safety precautions, so that no one gets sick.
MARSHALL: One of the biggest challenges has to be having multiple transitions of kids that came from virtual to face-to-face. It became more of a stretch with following the safety precautions. Because not everyone was going to wear their mask and sanitize their hands and do what was said.
DUA: The greatest challenge that I faced was just isolation in general. When you’re younger, you’re connected with so many social groups. Being away from all of that is very difficult. Of course, you can text, Snapchat or whatever, but it’s not the same as seeing the person face-to-face. When you’re at home and you’re doing the same exact thing every single day, time just kind of blends in. A couple months into quarantine, honestly, I couldn’t even tell you what the date was.
DID COVID HIT YOU OR YOUR FAMILY PERSONALLY?
ANANA: It didn’t hit me personally. It hit my mom, but she did have to quarantine for, I think two weeks. And it affected me because I was around her a lot prior to experiencing the symptoms. So, I was kind of worried for myself while also worried for her.
MARSHALL: Personally, it didn’t hit me and thank God it didn’t hit anyone in my family. But I feel like it’s impacted us mentally, if that makes sense, because it’s brought down a lot of our hopes in terms what we want to do and how we want to accomplish that. So, it’s just been pretty tough.
DUA: COVID did affect my family. It affected my father. So, it was very tough to see my dad because there’s some people who experienced very mild symptoms, but for my daddy was a bit more aggressive. At the worst of it, when his fever was high and he was very sick, he couldn’t even talk. He would communicate through blinking. So, it’s really hard to see a loved one go through that. And of course, you have to quarantine and stay away. So, I’d have to FaceTime my dad just to see him in the morning, and that’s really tough. It was very mentally and emotionally straining. But thank God he’s doing better. I heard a news reporter say that a lot of people don’t understand the impacts of COVID unless it, unfortunately, hits you or someone in your family. And I believe that’s very true. A lot of these people, whether you’re on spring break and you’re careless about COVID, they don’t understand the repercussions of it unless someone they see faces it. So, like Anana faced it with her mom, I faced it with my dad and you see it up close. That’s when you really build an empathy towards what’s going on.
STRESSFULL YEAR, YES OR NO?
MARSHALL: Personally, it’s been a pretty stressful year, alongside with some good things that happened. This whole COVID situation has really taken a toll.
ANANA: In the beginning, I was okay with staying home and quarantining because I’m a homebody. I don’t really like to go out. But then things just started to progress. I was stressed and I’m wanting to get out, but it was really hard because there were people outside who didn’t follow the mask mandate. That really stressed me out as well.
DUA: Very stressed, if I’m being honest. At the beginning of the pandemic, there were talks of, “If people wear their masks and follow the proper protocols and precautions, the pandemic would be done by summer.” As the months went by, you saw the statistics skyrocket. People were dying left and right. Not many safety precautions were being taken seriously… And then when Gov. Abbott passed the bill of, “Oh, you don’t have to wear a mask,” it got even worse. And it’s so tough to live in a world where everything is just so politicized and wearing a mask, that’s a healthcare precaution, comes down to political views. It’s really tough to see people suffer in such a bad way. So, I was very stressed, not only with school, but just the state of our world and how bad it became at a time. Because you know, Texas was doing the worst. And then when Gov. Abbott passed the bill of, “Oh, you don’t have to wear a mask,” it got even worse.
ANANA: Something that was really cool, that was set up by our school and the PTO was a senior movie night. We all got to hang out on the football field with our Lamar towels and watch a movie. Another thing it hasn’t happened yet; it’s going to happen later in May, is our LHS Fest. Instead of having a prom we’re doing “Formals and Flip-Flops” where all the seniors can hang out, listen to music and eat food. So, that should be really fun.
DUA: I really impressed myself with my ability adapt. Stephen Hawking once said that “Intelligence is the ability to adapt to a situation.” I feel like every student and teacher that was taught in virtual school and learned, whether virtual or in-person, there was a huge shift from what we felt last year. So, just adapting to the circumstances and just trying to make sense of the situation. I think that was the best part, because I learned a lot about myself and about my ability and just how strong we are as students.
MARSHALL: One of my best and most memorable moments from this year is when I received my first acceptance letter from a school. Before senior year started, I felt that it was going to be a tough and bumpy road. And obviously it has. But just getting that acceptance letter, it made me realize that all this hard work is starting to pay off. I’m going somewhere in life.
DID YOU MISS THE FULL SENIOR EXPERIENCE?
DUA: Senior year is all about just the sense of community. Having that taken away your last year is very tough. It strains a lot of relationships. There are people who I considered my friends, but now we don’t really text anymore. So, it’s hard to see friendships fade away. It’s your last year. You want to be together with everyone, soak up all the memories… Being together and the closeness you have with your class was kind of taken away.
ANANA: I think a lot of our relationships have been strained and I think that’s one of the things I regret; not putting in more work to reconnect with these people and just continue to have a strong bond with them.
MARSHALL: Never settle for less. You’ve always gotta push forward no matter how hard it gets and soon you’ll see how all that work you’ve done paid off.
ANANA: There’s always something to look forward to, to work towards. Once you meet one goal, there’s like a hundred more you can reach.
DUA: I learned the act of resilience and never giving up. I know that sounds very cheesy, but it’s been so tough to navigate through a pandemic and you just have to adapt to a situation and just go with it. DUA: You have to be quick on your feet. You have to think quick, and no matter how badly you might want things to stop or to take a pause, the world just doesn’t stop because you want it to. So, you really just have to go with it and adapt to the circumstances that are presented to you.
PLANS FOR THE FALL
The Pandemic Prom Situation
A huge part of the senior experience impacted by COVID was prom season, with some schools cancelling the event, some holding traditional proms and others offering their students an alternative event. For example, Reagan Peppers and Taylor Garrett, Ridge Point High School seniors, attended a seniors-only alternative prom called “Morp,” (“prom” spelled backwards) held outside. Lamar High School will offer its students an outside “prom” called “Formals & Flip-Flops.”
Tompkins High School senior Dru Polidore experienced his school’s traditional prom, though with very limited participants.
I won’t lie, I was kind of on the fence of if I wanted to go or not, because the whole name “Morp” was kind of throwing me off because we weren’t getting to call it prom. But I’m glad that I went for sure, because I’m an online student… So, “Morp” was more like a reunion for me. (LSU-bound Reagan Peppers)
I was on the prom court. Even though I didn’t win I was just excited to be on the court and being nominated. But overall, the night was fun. The after-parties, the prom itself and the dinner before it. (Texas Tech-bound Taylor Garrett)
A lot of kids were stripped of their proms last year. I’m just thankful for the opportunity to create lifelong memories with my friends. (Air Force Academy-bound Dru Polidore)
MOMS ON PROMS
DEFENDER: What type of COVID precautions did your child’s school take and were you okay with those precautions?
ALISA PEPPERS: I was. Like Reagan said, she didn’t really think it was going to be a prom, but the parents, we were excited that they were even going to give them an opportunity to do something. So, you had to have a mask. You could not invite anyone outside of the school. You couldn’t invite any friends or anyone you were dating outside of Ridge Point. It was only Ridge Point seniors. They limited how many people would be there. And it was outside, all spread out. They had the music, the DJ and everything. So, I was okay with that. And no mask could come off, ever. I was okay with that. I was actually excited for her to get to do something.
MICHELLE GARRETT: I was comfortable with it. Taylor has been face-to-face since they opened back up. And as a school employee, I’ve been face-to-face the entire time. The precautions that the district has been taking have been absolutely excellent; kind of overboard a little bit, to make sure. But I felt very comfortable, and plus the prom was outside.
DEFENDER: How was it for you, watching your daughter have to have a very non-traditional senior year?
ALISA PEPPERS: It was hard, but like I told her, this is what she has. This one will go down in the history books. And the way I tell her about my senior year and what I did, she’ll do the same thing. She’ll tell her children, “You won’t believe it. But during the pandemic, I was a senior and we had to have a “Morp” instead of a prom. We’ve been laughing about this. She hasn’t been in school since her junior year because COVID hit spring right after spring break for us. And we were home and she’s about to graduate high school. So, it was tough to see her going through her classes, online with no friends around and doing study groups online with no friends around. But like I told her, this one is one for the history books. This is what she will talk about. And she’s done a good job, because I’d be going crazy right now.
MICHELLE GARRETT: A little disappointing at first, because I thought that she wasn’t going to be able to do all the fun senior things. But I will say the district and especially the school opened it up to have all the events that they possibly could. The only thing that she is going to miss out on is a senior trip. But they had homecoming. Instead of the traditional Sunrise Breakfast, we’re doing a Sunset Breakfast. We do a Senior Car Parade, which was started last year for those seniors who couldn’t participate in anything. They’re going to continue that tradition. So, there’s still a lot of events that they’re having for seniors. And truthfully, even though she was face-to-face, I thought it was pretty easy. It was very lax, extremely lax.