After more than an entire school year of limited activities, reduced in-person instruction, mask wearing and countless other pandemic restrictions, high school seniors can still find the bright side of things.
All three of our athletic seasons were shoved into the second half of the year?
“It wasn’t like a normal season, but just playing a sport was a bonus,” said Amsterdam High School senior James Shatas.
Our senior class will be split in half so we can host a pair of graduation ceremonies that stay within state-mandated size guidelines?
“I’m just glad I got to have a real graduation,” said David Bertuch, Amsterdam High School’s valedictorian and senior class president.
Bertuch and five of his classmates recently reflected on the school year that was their senior year – an unprecedented year of masks, virtual classes, shifting rules, improvised socialization and rolling quarantines. But also a year of newfound interests, growing self reliance and a deeper understanding of why not to take things for granted.
“I think we are all grateful we got some stuff,” said Alex Kline, a top Amsterdam student and soccer and track athlete headed to SUNY Oswego in the fall to study mathematics.
Like last year’s graduates, the class of 2021 will go down as pandemic graduates who will long be impacted by the trajectory set during these strange times.
The Amsterdam seniors weighed who had it worse off: the Class of 2020, which entered a world of dark uncertainty as their final months of school neared, or the Class of 2021, which spent all of their final year under onerous restrictions and precautions but leave as signs of hope abound?
On the one hand, current seniors are confident they will be attending college on campus, many have been vaccinated and they are planning a summer full of concerts and hanging out with friends as restrictions continue to loosen by the week. On the other hand, they had to grind out an entire school year – the one they had also long dreamed of – under pandemic restrictions, most of which lasted until their final days of school, and they did see scores of activities fall off the schedule entirely.
“They (last year’s seniors) got to at least enjoy part of it as a regular senior,” said Najah Martin, who will attend SUNY Binghamton in the fall to study political science, of last school year. “It was nice for six months.”
But this year’s graduates have a clearer path ahead than their immediate predecessors: all six Amsterdam graduates said they were confident they would be attending college on campus in the fall – something close to what college life looked like prior to March 2020.
“I would choose this year,” Bertuch said, considering the prospect of starting his first year of college remotely. “I’m so excited for college I’ve started to try and find things for my dorm. College has given me something to look forward to.”
In Amsterdam, this year’s seniors spent most of the year on a hybrid instruction schedule, attending school in person for two days, followed by four days of remote instruction. In recent months, seniors in particular have had more freedom to attend school in person.
But the soon-to-be graduates described how the early days of dressing up for online classes in time devolved into elaborate study-from-home setups that involved staying in bed and piling up pillows to serve as a desk. “You put the laptop on a pillow and hope you don’t fall asleep,” said Lucas Sarabia, Amsterdam’s second-highest-performing student, who took every honors, Advanced Placement and college credit-bearing course available to him in high school.
Kline said he had two computer monitors on a desk at the foot of his bed and would often follow along with his online class from bed.
“I either lay in bed and look across the room at them or take my computer to bed,” Kline said.
Martin said she would stack pillows up in bed to set her computer on. “It works just like a desk,” she said.
Sometimes the students would get out of bed for class, enjoying the limited range of movement available to them in their home.
“I’d be cooking breakfast,” Kline said of his appearance in some classes .
“I’d be walking around my home with the phone on school,” said Olivia Holloway, who racked up academic and community service honors during her time in high school and plans to study biology at SUNY Binghamton in the fall. “You are looking forward to senior year all of high school and you are home most of the week.”
The students recalled classes and school days plagued by technical challenges, and they largely agreed that the monotonous grind of virtual classes made it hard to stay focused on schoolwork. Some of the seniors said in many ways their senior year felt like a lost year.
“It’s really not the same,” said Bertuch, who plans to study computer engineering at Cornell University in the fall. “I wouldn’t consider it a real academic year.”
The seniors said they especially missed the lost social opportunities of clubs, activities, the clamor of hallway traffic (divided into one-way lanes this year). Even days when they attended school in person felt sparse compared to the past. If their closest friends didn’t share their schedules they were out of luck.
“Not a lot of people came, so there were not a lot of people to talk to,” Martin said of her in-person instruction days. She had participated in Masterminds, a competitive trivia club, but that was canceled this year.
But Martin, who is part of the Smart Scholars program, which allows students to also enroll in college class at Fulton Montgomery Community College, said she still felt supported by school staff.
“She was always there when I needed her,” she said of her counselor who helped with college application questions and issues.
While many activities were canceled this year, some athletic seasons were salvaged – to an extent. Despite consolidated seasons and games canceled in the wake of COVID-19 infections, student-athletes had a chance to get onto their respective fields of play.
Shatas, who plans to study computer science at SUNY Buffalo and attempt to make the football team as a walk-on, said it was weird to have such tightly-scheduled sports seasons but appreciated it over the feared alternative that all seasons would be canceled.
“Everything got moved,” he said. “Basketball overlapped with football and football overlapped with lacrosse.”
But he didn’t mind.
“I was just hoping for the best,” he said. “I was happy to have sports.”
Students also still found new inspiration and interests this year, setting themselves on new career paths. Holloway, who founded and edited the school newspaper, the Rampage, said she switched her planned major to biology after taking AP Biology this year. Now, she plans to study medicine and pursue a career as a physician’s assistant.
“This year I took AP Bio and realized how interested I was,” she said.
“When I took AP Bio, I didn’t want to do medicine anymore,” Martin said of her experience in a notoriously challenging class.
The students said they had to get creative this year in order to keep in touch with friends, looking for outdoor activities or falling back on digital means of connection.
“A lot of my friends were playing Pokemon Go, like it was 2016,” Kline said, referring to an online game that requires people to go to different locations in real life to look for digital Pokemon.
“There were alot more hours than usual on Facetime,” Holloway said.
As summer approaches, though, the seniors have been returning to more social interactions. The transition back may, at times, be awkward.
“I felt like I had almost lost social skills. It felt like it had been so long since I had face-to-face interactions,” Sarabia said. “That has sort of gone away.”
But it has also been a long sought relief.
“I’m going out of my way to talk to people, to have a conversation,” Shatas said.
The students also said they were looking forward to a few outdoor graduation parties – another point for the Class of 2021.
“This year we can also have graduation parties,” Sarabia said. “They didn’t get those last year – parties was like not a word.”