Masks and social distancing. Quarantines and remote learning.
The 2020-21 school year was not a typical experience for high school students on the verge of graduating after a dozen years in elementary, middle and high school. School districts had to make tough decisions on how to offer their lessons to students while trying to make it safe for both students and staff as well as their families, during an unprecedented pandemic caused by COVID-19.
In the Ogdensburg City School District before they re-opened fully on May 3, students could choose between fully remote or a hybrid model, where they went to school two to three days a week and the other days they were remote, receiving their lessons through a computer. The district had split the students into “cohorts” to limit the number of students attending class at a certain time.
That meant that some students weren’t able to see friends they have made over the course of their school careers, or make new ones.
For Mitchel McCarthy, a senior at Ogdensburg Free Academy, not being able to see his friends was one of the most difficult aspects of protocols implemented by the schools.
“With either having to be fully remote or the hybrid learning, friends are on opposite days and you can’t see them,” said McCarthy, who will be attending SUNY Oswego for physical therapy in the fall.
The back and forth from remote learning to going to school was also difficult for some students. Fellow senior Paige Shaver said while some have thrived in the remote setting, she admits that she struggled staying motivated her last year at OFA.
“I definitely struggled to keep myself motivated to make it to the end of the year. When switching from online days to going back to school, I never want to do work when I am home. It’s difficult,” said Shaver, “Some people thrive off of it and some people are doing amazing at home but for me its just I need to be with my teachers.”
Shaver, who will be attending SUNY New Paltz, majoring in music with a concentration in music therapy, said her senior year has not lived up to expectations.
“When I was younger, I expected to have all these crazy things, going to the football games and things like that and we’ve just had nothing, Who knows if we will have prom,” said Shaver. “It’s hard to stay motivated because I am not looking forward to anything anymore at school.”
A wrestler and baseball player, McCarthy was looking forward to his senior year representing the Blue Devils. With the seasons combined, he had to choose one of the two sports.
“Like for wrestling, I can’t wrestle this year because I chose to play baseball because I will have a better chance of having a more complete season. It (wrestling) was something I was really looking forward to,” said McCarthy.
Heuvelton Central School 2021 Class President Andrew Demers began the school year only going in person for two of the five days of the week and found it was hard to keep up with the rigorous classes he was taking. Luckily, due to smaller class sizes he was eventually able to go four days a week.
Demers, who will be attending Rochester Institute of Technology for Astrophysics in the fall, says that a major benefit of attending a small school like Heuvelton is the ability to make a tight bond with the majority of his classmates. Not being able to see them on a daily basis has been tough for the senior.
“Seeing these people only half of the week or in some cases, not at all, has been tough because they all added to the enjoyable environment of my school. The social distancing and division of the school has made it tough to maintain a social life,” he said.
COVID-19 has also spoiled prom and class trips that the students have been fundraising for, according to Demers.
“We had been fundraising for a class trip to Washington D.C. and a prom. We were unable to do either of these things and have opted for smaller trips to amusement parks instead,” said Demers, adding “my class and the graduating class of 2020 also had a school trip planned to the British Isles that fell through once the pandemic hit.”
Liberty Montroy, a senior at Morristown Central School, felt like the hardest part of the school year was COVID-19 contact tracing and the resulting quarantines.
“During January, I was quarantined up to four times because of exposure so the move from being in school then out of school on remote was difficult. I was starting to get confused on assignments and teachers didn’t know if I was in school or remote. It made things very stressful for me,” said Montroy adding that the quarantines negatively affected figure skating and her job at Ogdensburg’s Save-A-Lot.
Montroy, who will be attending the Paul Mitchel School of Barbering in Schenectady, said that as a student of BOCES Northwest Tech in the cosmetology program she missed out on being able to work on real clients, a privilege that gives students valuable hands- on experience.
“Due to COVID, the Class of 2021 didn’t get to do this so many of us have not even done real services on a real-life client. I feel as though I’m behind because of this. When I get my license I will not have any experience on working in a salon environment like past students,” she said. She fears that salons may not hire her because of her lack of experience, experience that she would have had if not for the pandemic.
Lisbon Central School senior Jayden Carr stated that wearing masks was probably the most difficult rule to get used to, especially during the shortened sports seasons.
“My biggest challenge was probably the mask. In sports it was a very challenging thing to keep over your nose while trying to get conditioned, in both soccer and basketball seasons,” said Carr, who was hoping for Lisbon’s soccer team to make it back to regionals with a shot at making it back to the Final Four. All state playoffs were canceled.
“We had an undefeated season last year so to not be able to compete at the highest level this year was really disappointing,” said Carr, who will be attending the Linemen Institute of the Northeast in Saugerties, N.Y.
Carr said that he appreciated Lisbon’s faculty and staff for what they had to change to make the past school year happen as well as the custodians and cafeteria workers for spending more time sanitizing and cleaning increased spaces so they could open school. And lastly, he thanked his coaches.
“Thank you to all the coaches for recognizing the fact that we had to wear masks and training us both mentally and physically to be competitive and prepared but also concerned for our health, safety and well being on the field and court,” said Carr.
Like Carr, Hammond Central School senior Madeleine Rathbun said that hardest aspect to deal with was the daily wearing of masks. This is because a friend who is hearing-impaired really struggled with the mask mandate.
“I have a close friend who is hearing-impaired and this year, unfortunately, her Cochlear implant malfunctioned and she was left deaf for about a week. She relied on only being able to read lips and with the masks it was impossible. She couldn’t come to school. She couldn’t go outside with friends. She stayed at home for the most part because she felt like an outcast. Besides the senior class having a classmate that was hearing-impaired we also had to adapt by learning how to play sports with a mask and sitting in a class looking at our fellow classmate with masks on,” Rathbun stated, “This is our last year at Hammond and we have to sit in a class without all of our classmates and never having normalcy at school again.”
Rathbun, who is looking to be a dental hygienist, said like many of the seniors interviewed, events that were supposed to take place their last year just are not happening. Proms, senior trips and other events that have been looked forward to for years, have been taken away by COVID-19.
“I was looking forward to having my senior trip the most, just some time to spend in the warm weather with my classmates,” Rathbun said, adding that she and her classmates have been looking forward to the trip since 7th-grade.
“COVID has made our senior year nothing like we expected it to be,” she said.