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Seniors' reactions to changes caused by COVID-19 Exploring the Class of 2020’s responses to the impact of COVID-19 on school closure, graduation and grading

By Charlotte Chui

Additional reporting by Shuvi Jha

School Closure

For seniors Steve Ho and Giovanni Vurro, their initial reaction to the three-week school closure announcement on March 13 was one of happiness, since they viewed it as a short break from school. Senior Anika Mittal, however, said she “had a feeling” that March 13 would be her last day of high school.

“I remember getting in the car after seventh period going home and looking at my mom and saying, ‘I think this is my last day of high school,’ and looking back at MVHS,” Mittal said. “After I had that little revelation [with] my mom, I still had hope that it would not get canceled, but then as time went on, the hope kind of dwindled away.”

Because the closure was to comply with health guidelines and prevent large group gatherings, Vurro had anticipated still being able to hang out with friends in smaller groups, even while taking online classes. However, when the situation escalated in severity with measures such as Santa Clara County’s shelter-in-place order, Vurro’s concerns began to escalate as well.

“We saw it coming, but we just kind of denied it because we thought there was a chance things can get better; we didn't really want to accept that because thinking about [school] closing would have been too sad,” Vurro said. “The first thing I did was text my friends on our group chat. We've poured in four years at MVHS, and so to have it canceled and taken away — there's so many good memories we had, and just thinking about not having another lunch up at the stairs or not walking to classes together anymore — it was just really sad for us.”

Mittal also turned to her friends for support over a Zoom call after finding out about the school closure. Though she says that she was in denial for a day or two after the announcement, she and her friends tried to shift their perspectives.

“We just kind of sulked about how upset we were together, and then [...] my friends, we came to the conclusion that there's really no one or nothing you can blame — it's no one's fault. Even though it is really upsetting, people are going through worse. We did try to lighten up the situation, instead of just getting down and negative about it.”

As Ho continued following the news, he began to expect an official announcement about school closure, especially regarding its potential effects on his future plans.

“I started getting worried because if we don't graduate on time or on track, now it could kind of mess with everyone's summer plans,” Ho said. “I was a bit apprehensive about what was going to happen. I'll be honest — I kind of had hope the whole time that we would end up going back to school, and then when they called it for the rest of the year, that was kind of the end of it.”

Ho says that he’ll miss spending time with his friends face-to-face in the College and Career Center the most, where they would talk about topics ranging from school stress and workload or asking each other about their lives. As the shelter-in-place order and school closures continued to be extended, Ho also began to appreciate parts of high school that he wasn’t expecting to.

“Going into quarantine, I had a lot of big plans of things that I would do, but it kind of faded,” Ho said. “The excitement's gone, you know? Now it’s just waiting for the school year to end. I know a lot of people kind of curse the monotony of high school, like the same thing, day after day, but it sucks not having a schedule to go by, and then you just drift between tasks in quarantine.”

For Vurro, the relationships he’s fostered with his friends and teachers are what he’ll miss most from MVHS. He has tried to replicate these hallmarks of his high school experience by maintaining these connections even during school closure. For example, Vurro and his friends hold Zoom calls four or five times a week or play online games, and Vurro will stay on the Zoom call after class to talk to his teachers about subjects like sports. However, he still mourns the loss of the rest of senior year and the unexpected ending of his four years at MVHS.

“You always think, ‘OK, yeah, we have another lunch to hang out at the steps,’” Vurro said. “‘We have other days we'll see them,’ and then when they announced that school is closing, you realize that Friday was the last time that we were going to hang out at lunch together at those steps.”

Vurro doesn’t think he would have done anything differently on that last Friday, if he’d known it was the last day of high school, but he wishes he’d fully enjoyed those moments. Regardless of how it ended, Vurro believes he’s made the most out of his time at MVHS.

“A thing I remember a lot is [assistant principal Mike White], when he did the freshman orientation, he always tells the kids to invest yourself fully into MVHS and invest yourself fully into high school because you'll get out of it what you put in,” Vurro said. “As freshmen, I know a lot of the kids think activities they do at school and the dress up days and the spirit weeks are kind of cheesy, but then as you progress through the year, you realize that's what you'll miss most. [MVHS] was just like a home for us for the last four years.”

Virtual Graduation

On April 17, superintendent Polly Bove sent an email announcing that all five Fremont Union High School District (FUHSD) schools would be holding a virtual graduation in June. According to senior Ananya Rajagopal, after the announcement that school was closed until the end of the year, she had already speculated that holding an in-person graduation in June would no longer be possible.

“Since a lot of colleges are doing postponed graduations, we were kind of assuming that will be their go-to plan,” Rajagopal said. “There were just memes about a Zoom graduation, and I was like, ‘Oh, but those are memes, it's not going to actually happen,’ so when they said, ‘Oh, we're going to go with the virtual graduation,’ I was very confused. I was kind of disappointed.”

Rajagopal says she understands that during this “unprecedented situation,” the district is more likely to prioritize other tasks like helping students access online school or figuring out meal plans. Though she acknowledges that planning graduation isn’t their highest priority, she wishes the district had considered other alternatives or delayed the event.

“Even though I know that part of the reason is because they don't want to disappoint people, I feel like more people would be accepting of something like, ‘Oh, it's unfortunate that because of the situation, we can't have a graduation in person on June 5, but maybe we could plan for having an in-person graduation in August,’” Rajagopal said. “And if that didn't work out, then we can do a virtual one on that day.”

One of Rajagopal’s friends from Lynbrook HS shared an online petition with her, asking Rajagopal and her friends from other FUHSD schools to share the link. Rajagopal says that many of her peers felt strongly about opting for a postponed graduation and put the link in their Instagram bios.

“Graduation is symbolic of us moving forward into whatever we're trying to do — for a lot of us that's college but other people might be doing other things — like we're leaving a large part of our town behind,” Rajagopal said. “We're going out and venturing off and starting our journey as independent adults, and our graduation is symbolic of a lot of that, so it's more than just a day when you're in your cap and gown. A lot of us care about that day, and it's something that's sentimental that you look back on, so the petition kind of explains some of that.”

Rajagopal believes that graduation is special, as a symbol for moving into the next stage of life. In the same email sent by Bove, other senior events, such as Senior All Night Part, Baccalaureate and Senior Ball, were also canceled. Though these events are part of the high school senior experience, Rajagopal feels graduation is the most significant out of all of them and the most viable option, given the current social distancing guidelines.

“A lot of us had Junior Prom [already], but I think you can't push for everything to happen, and considering the situation, us missing out on prom or even graduation for that matter is not the worst situation, considering the [COVID-19] situation,” Rajagopal said. “For something like prom, everyone is definitely very packed and close together. I feel like with graduation, you can still have people maintaining some kind of distance and guidelines.”

Though virtual graduation will still be happening on June 4 at 5:30 p.m., the senior class officers posted in the Class of 2020 Facebook group about the possibility of holding an in-person graduation and afterparty in August, depending on the severity of COVID-19 and strictness of health guidelines at that time. With this announcement, some seniors like Rajagopal and Vurro are still holding out hope for an in-person graduation.

“As soon as we saw that announcement, our hearts just [started] racing because the possibility of having our grad just made us really happy,” Vurro said. “Now, I think we're all just hoping and looking forward to having the opportunity because then, it’s the last time our Class of 2020 will be together and be with the teachers.”

Credit/No Credit Grading

In an email sent by superintendent Polly Bove to the FUHSD community on April 11, Bove announced the district-wide switch to credit or no credit grading. Senior Megan Chang says this change in grading policy didn’t come as a surprise. She points out the challenge that distance learning poses for teachers: it’s difficult for teachers to monitor students over Zoom and make sure everyone’s adhering to the academic honesty policy while taking tests.

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Charlotte Chui
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