Senior Year, Senior Fears

Powell, Cody, Lovell seniors, parents empathetic but sad about Covid-19 impact

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Tenna Dejarlais

A portion of the Powell High School 2020 senior class poses together on Color Day during Homecoming week in September 2019.

By Lauren Lejeune, Powell High School

Powell High School’s “extended spring break” still has another week to go. Students were wondering the week of March 23-27 what April 6, the projected date for school to begin, would  bring for the rest of the semester. Then at about 4 p.m. Friday, March 27, the school district revealed traditional school would remain closed until April 17, and online learning would commence April 6.

So what does the mean for PHS’ senior class? Seniors say they are especially curious about what their high school finale will bring. With prom and graduation right around the corner, students from all over the Big Horn Basin have mixed views on the COVID-19 shutdown and what this means for them.

“It’s kind of scary,” PHS senior Taeli Hessenthaler said. “I didn’t understand the severity of the situation until now.”

One Cody High School senior has similar views.

“It’s upsetting because it is my senior year, but I always have known whatever happens happens and it will be OK,” CHS senior Anna Foote said. “We can’t control this situation, but we can help prevent it from spreading more which can lead to things like postponing graduation.”

Not going back to school, or rather going back, is a concern for some seniors.

“I would say I enjoy not being at school because it’s a prison,” Cody High School senior Paul Lovera said. “But on the flip [side] I’m trapped in my house, which is not much better.

“At this point I think we will probably not go back to school and just stay online to finish the year out. I’d like to see minimal homework because we’re out here trying to survive a pandemic.”

Seniors have lost a lot this year, and most of us don’t even care when it is, we just want to walk across that stage.”

— Taeli Hessenthaler, PHS senior

PHS senior McKenzie Clarkson said the last year of high school ideally would be the typical one — creating memories with friends.

“The long break is nice but as a senior I feel like I’m missing out on the last moments with the people I have grown close to,” Clarkson said. “Many of us may never see each other again after this year, and we can’t even spend the last couple of months together. We are missing the best memories that could be made.”

PHS Principal Mr. Tim Worland, like many other school leaders and parents, also sees the many sides to this issue.

“I feel terrible for our students who have lost opportunities to compete and be involved in activities this spring,” Mr. Wormald said. “Our students, sponsors and coaches work so hard preparing for those events, and it is hard to see them not having the opportunity to reap the benefits of their labor.

“As hard as it is to miss out on these opportunities and to close down the school, our efforts to maintain social distance seem to be paying off. The county health doctor, Dr. Billin, indicated that our closing our schools has slowed the spread of the COVID-19 virus.”

With the reality of school moving online, schools across the Big Horn Basin are handling the situation differently.

“Come April 6, my school will be doing online schooling … which we began on the week of the 16th (March),” Lovell High School senior Amanda Lillard said. “We got notice today that we would be going back to school on April 17; however, there’s a high possibility that our grades will be finalized that day and we will not have to finish schooling through May. (If the virus doesn’t improve!).”

Foote added that she remains focused on walking across the stage come late May.

“Cody’s spring break would start April 9, so we probably won’t have one if we do go back on the 6th. I honestly don’t think we are going to go back to school with everything increasing and states going on actual lockdowns,” Foote said. “Cody is already online and it’s different, but if we want to graduate we need to focus and get things done.”

Parents of seniors also have strong opinions on the current situation and what it means for their senior.

“I think that when April 6 comes around that the state will have to re-evaluate the pandemic situation,” said Mrs. Heather Clarkson, mother of McKenzie Clarkson. “With this being the end of the semester, I would say that school should remain online for the rest of the year.

“Many colleges and schools across the country are closed for the rest of the semester. The students should be able to move on without worries of being in summer school. Online school is a must at this point. Online school for eight weeks and start fresh next year.”

Another parent expressed disappointment but also empathy about the entire situation.

“I’m saddened for the seniors missing out on the end of their last year of high school,”  said Miss Melanie Bennett, mother of Colby Bennett said. “Being a parent of a senior this year, it’s heart-breaking to think that he and his classmates won’t get to have a ceremony, or even a party, because of the restrictions being put in place.

“Of course, we all understand that safety is a very important issue, don’t get me wrong. It’s just sad. You only have one senior prom and one graduation. I definitely feel for every senior this year. I really do.”

End-of-the-year activities are still up in the air on whether they will be cancelled.

“I would like to have the spring sports season still happen if we do go online,” PHS senior Dylan Cordes said. “I was looking forward to this track season.”

Added Lovera: “Honestly missing prom and graduation would suck, but I say we all get a huge Zoom going for prom.”

Given the choice, Hessenthaler said commencement would be her favored option.

“I can live without prom… take prom but please give us graduation,” she said. “High school graduation is something that we have been dreaming of for years, and it would really suck if we didn’t get it. Seniors have lost a lot this year, and most of us don’t even care when it is, we just want to walk across that stage.”

This story was originally published on The Prowl on March 27, 2020.