Gov. JB Pritzker announced earlier this month the suspension of in-person learning at schools statewide for the rest of the academic year in an effort to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus.
While many Monroe County students understand why Pritzker made that decision, it was difficult to hear.
“I was pretty upset just because it’s senior year,” Waterloo High School senior Eli Ward said. “That’s when a lot of the fun stuff happens. I really loved all my classes. I loved all my teachers.”
WHS freshman Emma Wittenauer said she felt bad for the upperclassmen while also acknowledging the decision impacted her.
“I was upset. I felt really, really sad for all the seniors who are missing their last few months of school,” Wittenauer said. “I was also really worried because I was taking a driver’s ed course this quarter.”
Columbia students felt the same pain that Waterloo’s did and still do.
“Being a senior, it hurts a lot,” Columbia High School student Kelly Long shared. “I want my stuff. At first you feel selfish, but then you take a step back and re-evaluate the situation and you have to realize safety is the first priority.”
The disappointment students feel comes even as they say the shift to learning online has not been too difficult.
“It’s been different to move into that from regular school,” CHS sophomore Jake Steve said. “It’s easy to meet with teachers, though. I usually just try to work at it like regular school to make it easier on myself.”
Ward said the most difficult aspect of the new way of doing school is not the work, but self-motivating.
“It’s definitely tough, not necessarily finding time to work, but being motivated to stay on top of everything,” he explained. “But it’s definitely smoother than it could be. I think the school is doing a really good job of making sure everybody has what they need to be successful.”
Long said the same is true in Columbia.
“It has been a challenge, but I feel like we’re not alone in these types of situations,” she said. “The teachers have been extremely accommodating for all the students so that we’re not overwhelmed with work but we’re still learning for the future.”
The effect on learning is not the only reason students are missing going to school. Many are also losing a chance to participate in extracurricular activities like sports, band, student council and math team.
“I was more upset about missing my baseball season because I look forward to that,” Steve said. “For school, I didn’t really care.”
Ward, who runs track and cross country, said he was planning to “do some damage at state” in his final season of track, making this event more difficult.
“It’s definitely pretty sucky for a lot of senior athletes,” he said. “It’s pretty terrible for a lot of athletes anyway, but for seniors this is our final shot at a big season to really make memories. It’s senior year with a lot of the best friends you’ve made since kindergarten, and you’re finally getting to play that last season.”
But most students, including Ward, said they will miss being around their fellow students the most.
“I love school as well as track, and both of those have the common denominator of getting to do activities with people,” Ward said. “You can make anything fun if you’re hanging around with some friends.”
“We are such a tight-knit school,” Long agreed. “The engagement between the teachers and the students is unbelievable. The connections between grades are unbelievable. I’ve never felt more welcome in an environment. I think I’m really going to miss that almost at-home atmosphere that I get when I’m at school.”
Some of the activities students are missing out on may be made up later, and a few, like Wittenauer’s driver’s education course, can continue even with schools closed.
Teachers and students are also working to give students a chance to make those memories virtually through social media pages spotlighting seniors, creating places for students to share prom pictures, planning to hold a virtual band concert or hosting an awards banquet online.
As efforts continue to make the rest of this semester as normal as possible, students said the lack of normalcy will help them going forward in more ways than one.
“I don’t think people will take for granted a lot of the things we’re given anymore,” Ward assessed. “I can’t tell you how many of my friends have said ‘wow, I wish I was at school right now.’ And if they were at school, normally they’d be like ‘I just want to go home.’”
Wittenauer seconded that response.
“I think it’s really helped me appreciate more everything that’s going on,” she said. “A lot of people are like ‘I don’t like school. I don’t like coming to school every day.’ But now that we can’t go to school, we miss it.”
The Columbia students had a different perspective, saying facing this adversity will help them in college or their careers.
“It’s preparing me for college. It’s preparing me for future work in being versatile with the things I can do,” Steve reasoned.
“The class of 2020, we’re going to be so ready for college and future challenges ahead of us because we have been through this time of uncertainty and unpredictability,” Long concurred. “I feel like we also aren’t at any more of a disadvantage than any other student in any school.”