A very different kind of senior year Giving up ‘normal’ milestones to keep community safe

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By Amber Solorio

The last day of my junior year felt so unreal. The early conversation that day was circling everywhere between teachers and students. Would schools be closing soon? Many of us had different thoughts, ranging from “It isn’t a big deal” to “I’m only scared for my grandparent’s health.”

Then an announcement came on the intercom 8th period: we would be closing for two weeks. Everyone in my class was ecstatic, but in the back of my mind I knew this was going to turn into something a lot more serious.

A week after the madness of COVID-19 closed schools for an extended spring break, Gov. Gavin Newsom announced schools would be shut down for the rest of the academic year. I was disappointed but not surprised. I noticed that many people were not following the health guidelines and I saw the number of cases go up every day.

Google Classroom became my new best friend as I finished my last quarter of junior year remotely. Attending meetings on Zoom, trying to help other youth and community members through Youth Council in Soledad, while also taking care of my own mental health needs was a challenge. I struggled to find silence at home while I took hour-long AP exams for multiple courses, all the while dealing with an abundance of technology issues.

These past four months have been so difficult. I miss school, my schedule and my friends. This has, unfortunately, become the new normal.

I will be a senior this fall at Soledad High School. Before the pandemic hit I was very excited. After years of giving it my all, participating in sports, clubs and AP classes, I was finally going to walk to the stage and get my diploma. I’ve now accepted this might not be my reality.

Disappointing as it is, I was highly relieved that my district will not be reopening this Fall semester.

Not only is it completely unsafe to return to school but it also changes the perception of what school is.

As a daughter and sister of two people with underlying health conditions, opening schools does not sound like a safe option. We need to choose to protect people’s lives at all costs. The lives of students, staff and community will be impacted. The health of one is the health of all.

After attending school in Soledad for 12 years, I deeply love the community that witnessed me grow. Nobody wants to hear that an X amount of students in their district has passed away or that a teacher is in the hospital. One life lost is too many.

Not only is it completely unsafe to return to school but it also changes the perception of what school is. Every child deserves to feel safe at school; it shouldn’t be a dangerous place. Students and staff shouldn’t have to go to school every day wondering if they’re going to bring the virus back to their families. How would anyone feel knowing that they got their loved ones sick?

Teachers would be expected to do much more. Be public health officers, classroom suppliers, counselors, educators, and mentors, all while still being underpaid and exposed on the daily.

It is also extremely expensive to ensure we have a safe working environment. In a news report for U.S. News & World Report, Lauren Camera wrote that the Council of State Chief School Officers estimates that schools across the country will need $245 billion to safely reopen. Why not repurpose this money? Nine million students lack home internet access. We should be providing these resources to teachers and students so we can work at home safely, without the risk of exposing ourselves in a building.

During the pandemic, mental health issues have increased. A student-led survey from the ACLU SoCal’s Youth Liberty Squad found that 32 percent of students who were not receiving mental health support feel they may now need services, in addition to the 22 percent who were already receiving support. That means that over half of California’s students need mental health support. Money that had been slated for physical reopening should be moved to provide tele-mental health resources for students.

Supporters of reopening have argued that remote learning is difficult for teachers and that students are disengaged. This pandemic came out of nowhere and caught everyone off guard, and we can’t expect teachers and students to pivot and adapt to new technology, different ways of teaching and learning.

I may or may not get the traditional senior experience. I may not go to prom with my ideal date, wearing my long sparkly floral dress at our starry night garden party theme, and dancing the night away with all my friends one last time. I may have already attended my last homecoming week and screamed “let’s go!!” from the bleachers. I may not be able to go on the Universal Studios trip with friends I’ve made since kindergarten. The hardest of all, I may not even have a “normal” graduation to receive my diploma with grandparents, parents and siblings cheering me on from the stands.

Despite this, I made the best out of my three years here at SHS. I made so many memories at Soledad High, learned so much about myself, found my best friends and involved myself in my community. Yes, maybe I won’t have the senior year I was hoping for, but at least I can have a sense of pride that I did what was best for my loved ones, my peers and my community.

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About Young Voices

Young Voices Media Project teaches Monterey Bay area teens multimedia skills to report the news from their communities. This project was generously supported by the Clare Giannini Fund.