Senior year, interrupted

Seniors Alexa McCracken and Maci Carter pose for a photo. The Lake Forest High School students are currently out of school while the state responds to COVID-19, and the experiences they waited for since freshmen year are now put on pause. (Submitted photo)

Senior year is supposed to be the exciting endcap of “lasts”: last prom, last game as a high school athlete, last day of traditional school. For the class of 2020, some of those “lasts” came upon them a lot faster than expected.

“I expected two weeks and then we’d be back to season and then hearing that we’d be out until May 15 — it’s kind of heartbreaking for, I think, my entire team and most athletes,” said Jenna McDuff, a senior at Polytech High School.

High school seniors Alexa McCracken, Kyle Morris, Jenna McDuff, Maci Carter and Parthenamary Fekry pose for a photo during a Zoom interview.

Ms. McDuff, and seniors throughout Delaware, are watching as their expectations for senior year change drastically as schools close for more than two months and the state shelters in place while trying to stifle the coronavirus pandemic.

The typical life of a high school student is prone to be jampacked: students take on a rigorous schedule — such as AP courses or dual enrollment with universities — and then are responsible for a slew of extra curriculars, from clubs, to sports, to jobs and more. Overnight, that vanished.

Lake Forest seniors Maci Carter, front left, and Alexa McCracken, front right, pose for a photo with friends at school. The two are among seniors across the state whose senior year has changed rapidly due to COVID-19. (Submitted photo)

“I think that we need to understand that our teenagers are the most social people we know,” Meghan Walls, pediatric psychologist at Nemours/AI duPont Hospital for Children, said in a recent livestream with NAMI about managing stress during the pandemic.

“Maybe not with us, as parents, but they’re used to being able to be at school, be in after-school activities, so I actually expect an adjustment period where they’re going to have some downtime,” she said.

When schools closed for an initial two weeks mid-March, Lake Forest High School senior Maci Carter said she was a little excited about the break.

“I never really experienced having two weeks completely to myself, not having any responsibilities,” she said. “However, when they said that it was extended to May 15, I think we were all kind of shocked and wondering what we were going to do for that time. And knowing our school year was cut short like that — it’s a different perspective now.”

She noted that she never thought she would say this, “but I definitely miss school,” she said.

“I just think that social interaction is something that everyone needs and we’re so used to constantly being with our friends every day at school and just having that learning environment,” she said. “I miss practices, definitely just having time to like be with other people and my FFA meetings after school. It’s just weird not to have any responsibilities at all. It’s definitely a big adjustment for everyone.”

In a Zoom call Wednesday, a group of seniors from different school districts downstate echoed Maci’s sentiments.

At first it felt like a spring break, said Alexa McCracken, a Lake Forest student.

“But then we had our practices canceled, which sucked. And then all of our school events had been canceled, like senior trips and stuff,” she said. “And that was really heartbreaking. And I just think we probably won’t get that back.”

Parthenamary Fekry, of Smyrna High School, said that senior night was probably the hardest loss.

“That’s probably the most detrimental thing, because we all looked forward to it since we were freshmen,” she said. “And just being seniors on the team: You’re the oldest, they all look up to you and stuff like that.”

Asked Kyle Morris, a Sussex Tech senior: “Who doesn’t like to get out of school?”

But, he said, then he realized how much came along with school being closed, beyond prom and trips.

“This really affects at least some of our futures,” he said. “I know a few of us do, like outside of school, internships and stuff like that. So that inability to get that for future college, work and stuff really does affect a lot of people.”

While schools are slated to be out until May 15, and many districts are already reshaping their calendars to meet the new time frame, there is the fear that schools could see a longer time period of closure, and that Delawareans could be social distancing for much longer.

“I’m mostly worried about not having a graduation,” Ms. Carter said. “If this continues to get worse, I know that we probably won’t have it. And it’s kind of scary because we’ve been working our entire career for this. The past 12 years, you’ve been working hard in school to get your diploma.”

Mr. Morris said that the last few months of senior year are most important.

“It’s kind of like a payoff for what we’ve done for the last 13 years of our lives and education, with all the trips and athletics and prom, graduation,” he said. “It’s all built up to this, and not getting the experience is kind of a let down.”

He added that there are some people — those who have already graduated, or underclassmen, who dismiss the fear of a canceled graduation.

“It doesn’t personally affect them like it affects us,” he said. “The fact that we don’t get to experience that, I think, is what’s most upsetting rather than just saying it doesn’t really matter in the long run.”

Despite the closure, districts across the state are soldiering on in one way or another. Some have rolled out Zoom lectures and virtual classes, others have sent home academic packets, or some combination of the two.

“I’ve been, outside of school, slacking off now and it’s hard to find motivation to stay with it,” Ms. McCracken said. “We have Zoom classes. It’s not the same. I’m not pushing myself as hard and it’s really hard to keep up with all the work. I just don’t like it as much. I kind of do miss sitting in a classroom with my friends and having to do work there instead of doing it all at home.”

Ms. Fekry agreed. She noted that her classes are mostly review packets and are ungraded.

“One thing I do miss is laughing with all my friends and stuff,” she said. “Because I don’t get to see them all the time and that’s something that I probably miss the most.”

With their busy days in school, home offers them space to unwind, Mr. Morris added.

“Our levels of being able to complete work and being motivated to do that has drastically fallen, since we haven’t been in school because we associate school with work and getting stuff done and education. And our home is obviously relaxing,” he said.

For Ms. McDuff, she has been doing her review work and assignments, but the loss of the athletic side of school stings.

“I just want to play soccer,” she said. “I’m forcing myself to work out because I want to stay in shape. I’m an athlete, I want to be doing stuff. It’s hard to just not do anything.”

Ms. McCracken agreed.

“I think we get so used to having practice after school that sometimes we’re like, ‘Oh, I don’t feel like going,’ but now that it’s all stripped from us, I definitely miss it,” she said. “I don’t know, it doesn’t feel real. Like, I feel like we should still be going back to school and still have a season. But I don’t know if we even will have a season now.”

Beyond high school, though, the group noted that they’re living through history.

“We’re kind of just living through a major event,” Mr. Morris said. “In our future, when they look back at this, we were part of a major historical event. I honestly never thought that something like this would ever be able to happen, especially with the amount of modern medicine and modern technology we have.”

And they’re not alone in this, Ms. McCracken added.

“We’re not the only seniors experiencing this. It’s all over the world,” she said.

There are silver linings, though, they agreed.

While their parents and families have been likewise mostly housebound, they have had more time together: Ms. McCracken’s brother is home after spending time in California. Ms. Carter’s family comes together to play games and have meals with each other more regularly.

The abrupt halt reminded Ms. McDuff to slow down and enjoy the things around her, while Mr. Morris agrees that, in difficult times, it’s important to find value in even the small things. Ms. Fekry said it is a good reminder to not take things those “lasts” for granted.

They all look forward to seeing, and hugging, their friends again.

Between texting, Zoom, FaceTime and even making TikToks together, the group noted that they’ve been keeping in touch with their friends.

“I think that this is an opportunity for all of us to reach out to maybe someone we haven’t spoken to in a while, or even family members and tell everyone how grateful we are for them,” Ms. Carter said.

“Overall,” Ms. McCracken added, “social interaction, I think, none of us will take for granted.”

Helpful Coronavirus links

Delaware Division of Health Coronavirus Page
CDC: About the Coronavirus Disease 2019
CDC: What to do if You Are Sick
Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center
AP News Coronavirus Coverage
Reopening Delaware: Resources for Businesses
Delaware Phase 2 guidance

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