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'It would be heartbreaking': Teens fear they may lose prom, graduation and rest of senior year

San Diego Union-Tribune - 3/22/2020

At first 17-year-old Karolyn Curtis thought it was cool that she and her fellow seniors at Morse High School, in southeastern San Diego, will get a longer spring break.

Now it's just depressing.

"We didn't ask for this," she said.

Karolyn and other high school seniors say they are coming to the realization that their schools may not re-open this spring and they may lose the rest of their senior year.

Nearly all California schools have closed to help lessen the spread of the novel coronavirus. Gov. Gavin Newsom this week said he suspects schools won't be able to re-open for the rest of the school year, although those decisions will for now be left up to individual schools and school districts.

"It's just crazy to think it's all over, or it could be all over," said Carlos Torres, an 18-year-old senior and student body president at Bonita Vista High School in Chula Vista.

The loss of school will impact all students academically and socially, but it will have an extra emotional impact on many high school seniors.

Many say they were looking forward to prom, grad nite and an in-person, pomp-and-circumstance, walk-the-stage graduation ceremony — all the traditional rites of passage.

Those seem impossible now, with no large gatherings of people allowed and everyone ordered to stay at home for the forseeable future.

"It's just hard to grasp ... I don't know if I'll have a graduation," said Jaden Chavez, a senior at Rancho Buena Vista High School in Vista. "Will my diploma just be emailed to me?"

Some seniors said graduation is more than just a ceremony.

It's validation that they completed 12 years of school. It's a special time to share with friends before they disperse to colleges across the country.

"I feel like for a lot of my life I've been looking forward to being able to walk across that stage and go to my senior prom," said Kaitlyn White, a 17-year-old senior at Rancho Buena Vista High. "If it's closed for the rest of the year and we're going to have to miss prom and graduation, I feel like it would just multiply what we're feeling right now by 200."

Diplomas? College?Some seniors wonder how they're going to get their diploma or whether they'll physically be able to go to a college campus this fall.

If the school year does end up canceled, it's unclear how seniors will complete the courses they need to graduate.

"People are worried about that. That scares me," Karolyn said. "If we can't finish it, finish what we can online, I can't imagine going back to school again."

Many students have yet to receive mandatory class assignments that would count toward a grade during the school closures.

Some districts have said that's because they don't want to disadvantage any student who doesn't have access to the internet or a working computer.

Evette Vicente, a 17-year-old senior at Olympian High School in Chula Vista, said she doesn't know how she's going to complete her pre-calculus course because she doesn't think learning pre-calculus online will work for her.

"I need someone to show me. I just feel like I would be unable to learn through a computer," Evette said.

Kaitlyn is an International Baccalaureate student, meaning she has to pass several IB tests and complete community service hours and more to earn her IB diploma, which is highly regarded. She was scheduled to take five IB tests this spring, as well as one Advanced Placement test.

Now she doesn't know how she will be able to take those tests and earn her IB diploma.

"Am I going to get this diploma that I've been working on for a year and a half already?" she said.

The IB organization has extended its coursework deadlines and said it will decide by the end of next week how to address exams in a way that shows "compassion for our students and teachers and fairness for the difficult circumstances our students and educators are experiencing."

Cooped upTo pass the time at home, Karolyn has mostly been going on social media and watching Netflix. She doesn't have many school assignments.

"It's just like being in bed all day bored. There's nothing to do," Karolyn said.

Karolyn said she's especially bummed because Morse High's Social Justice Club, of which she is president, was planning to hold a Week of Consciousness starting Monday, an annual event that focuses on a social justice issue.

This year's week was going to be about sexual harassment. The week was going to include free self-defense classes, an educational presentation about sexual assault, a student open mic event, a silent protest and a pep rally to raise money for a local domestic violence shelter, Karolyn said.

"All of the events that we planned … everything is just like, it's gone," Karolyn said.

Evette said she wasn't given any schoolwork to do, except to keep a journal of what quarantine life is like.

So she's been passing the time by skateboarding and going on TikTok, Instagram and Snapchat. Sometimes she goes out to eat, picking up food from a restaurant and eating it in her car.

Torres said he's been working on an essay due this week and doing "random activities" inside and outside the house with his brother.

"It's kind of funny because we're doing things we haven't done since we were kids, like play catch and sketch and stuff," Torres said.

Jaden said she has been trying to fight off depression and anxiety.

She has severe asthma, so she has been self-quarantining for more than a week. She has seen her boyfriend only once since then, from six feet away in her driveway.

Being cooped up at home is hard for Jaden because she is used to being out and involved until as late as 9 p.m. sometimes, juggling business classes at Palomar College, school band and a part-time job at a small Carlsbad boutique.

She's coping by embroidering, watching TV, video-chatting with her friends and doing schoolwork. As a school peer counselor, she worries about the mental health of her classmates.

Jaden saw a recent poll on Instagram that asked students whether they want to be back at school. About 80 percent said yes, she said.

"Nobody wants to be home," she said.


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