Looking across the street at Northeast Lauderdale High School, Jay Youngblood wonders if he’ll finish out his senior year back on campus or at home.
“I've been at Northeast since pre-K — this is something I’ve been working on for 14 years,” the 18-year-old said. “Just the thought of not being able to finish my senior year or get a chance to walk across the stage – it’s really hard to grasp.”
Youngblood isn’t alone.
Like many seniors around East Mississippi, his final year of high school is temporarily on hold during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Schools are closed through April 17, and many students are worried if they’ll even return this school year.
For seniors, with prom, picnics and commencement activities on hold, their feelings are even more acute.
“When I left for spring break, I had every intention of coming back a week later,” Youngblood said. “Then we got pushed back to April 17, and it set in that I might not be able to finish my senior year.”
“Yeah, I will have another senior year in four years, but a college senior year is way different than a high school senior year,” he added. “When you are graduating college you are about to go into the real world and get a job. A high school senior year is supposed to be a lot of laughs that you have with your friends you’ve been with pretty much your whole life.”
Northeast senior Caroline Kercheval was expecting to play one more game of tennis this year, but her season ended when the schools were closed.
“I only got to play one match this year, and it kind of hurt,” she said.
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Since she can’t physically see her friends and teachers, Kercheval has been using Facebook, Snapchat and ZOOM to stay connected. That’s made it easier to cope with not being in school, but it’s still difficult.
Like Youngblood, she hopes to return to school soon and walk at graduation with her classmates.
“A lot of people at my school, it will be the biggest thing for them,” she said. “For a lot of people this is it and they are going straight to work.”
Northeast class president Daneel Konnar is still adjusting to the shock of the school closing, even if the closure is temporary.
“It’s mind-boggling that all of it ended in a weekend,” he said. “The feeling of being around teachers that genuinely love you, love their job and their kids — that’s what I miss, just being in that environment, when everyone is together."
Clarkdale senior Emma Clark worries that the missed classwork will affect her grades.
“All of us are scared because we don’t want our G.P.A.’s to drop, if we are not getting work,” she said.
Devontae Hunter, a Meridian High School senior, said he’s been telling his classmates to stay positive.
“I’ve been telling my seniors just to be patient,” he said. “Everything is going to itself work out when you keep faith in God.” he said.
Previous generations of young people have dealt with challenges, such as 9/11 or Hurricane Katrina. Unexpected events like the COVID-19 crisis prepare them for unexpected life events as a adults, Hunter said.
“Every generation has something like this happen,” he said. “It’s teaching us how to cope with things.”
Meanwhile, at Lamar School, Leigh Ann Ballou, head of school, held a ZOOM session with a group of seniors last week to reassure them that there will be graduation and prom.
While they understand that online learning is necessary, it’s still been hard not seeing their friends and teachers.
“It's a lot different and weird, not seeing everybody every day,” said senior Sam Garrett.