Woodinville seniors are missing out on some of the biggest traditions of high school: homecoming, sporting events, pep rallies, prom, graduation parties, college visits, lock-ins and anything else that includes a large group of people.
Senior year is usually associated with fun memories and life-altering experiences. But for students living through COVID-19, those typical milestones are replaced by stress and solitude.
According to school reopening data in Washington state, students in grades nine through 12 only recorded a high of 30.4% in-person attendance in a single day during the week of March 29. This is compared to 34.6% attendance in middle schools and 52.6% in elementary schools.
Woodinville High School senior Lexi Lundquist is choosing to return to in-person learning in hopes that it will increase her motivation and productivity.
“Learning online was hard for me, because I used to be the student who got all my assignments done early and put a lot of effort into school,” Lundquist said. “Ever since COVID hit and schools shut down, it’s been very hard for me to stay motivated and on top of everything like usual.”
She said her mental health has taken an “extreme toll” during remote learning, similar to other students in her class. With the decreased amount of school work completed on a day-to-day basis, Lundquist said, it has made her feel worse about herself. As a result, she still feels more behind this year than any other year.
A study released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention last August showed a significant increase in reported feelings of anxiety and depression, especially among young adults.
As a person who constantly needs to be around friends, the isolation of remote learning was difficult for Lundquist as well. But if any silver linings came out of this year, she added, it was learning how to be alone and how to be more grateful for the things around her.
Others in her class are also trying to keep an optimistic outlook.
“Some positives that have come from this year are the amount of time I’ve been able to spend with my family as we’re all home more often,” WHS senior Carson Noe said. “I’d love for that to continue to happen as we return to a more normal time period.”
Noe plans to return back to in-person classes after the brief basketball season concludes in May. He said one of the biggest challenges has been accepting the shortened sports seasons, especially after working most of his life looking forward to this one year.
North Creek High School senior Garrison Kepley elected to stay remote for the duration of the school year. While he misses his friends, he is content with seeing them at basketball practices.
“For me, Covid hasn’t been as much of a hurdle as it has been for others,” Kepley said. “It’s allowed me to focus on basketball and family, so I think it’s really a blessing in disguise.”
Senior Mia Hughes, another WHS athlete, only visits the high school once per week for one class. As a full-time running start student, she attends online Zoom classes and a science lab. Like her fellow classmates, Hughes has struggled with staying motivated and energized throughout the pandemic.
“Having to stare at a computer screen all year isn’t the easiest and it definitely tires you out faster than actual school,” Hughes said.
Along with this, she added, missing out on the usual gatherings like sporting events and dances has been really unfortunate. She said the school’s Associated Student Body, or ASB, has organized drive-by events and planned a prom to keep students engaged.
“Luckily, we got to attend two football games in person and that was the first time I truly felt like a senior,” Hughes said. “Although it was short, I’m definitely grateful to get some of these experiences.
WHS senior Phoebe Hall said she struggled with finding a routine this year, which contributed to her decision to return to in-person schooling. Some days, she noted, her days are full of course work and college prep. Other days, it’s a hassle to get out of bed, she added.
A recent survey conducted by America’s Promise Alliance of 3,300 people aged 13-19 found more than half of young people are more concerned than usual about their current and future education.
Hall said teachers have adapted to remote learning, but there is no focused help for quiet students who are unable to ask questions in front of the class. There isn’t a way for teachers to notice that someone is falling behind, she added.
“I think most of my teachers have tried their best to adapt to remote learning,” Lundquist said. "Although sometimes it feels like they load on more work for us to do just because we’re at home.”
Emma Torrie, another senior at WHS, said the teachers seems to be doing their best. However, she does not think the teachers understand how mentally draining school is for students right now.
Hughes said most of her teachers have adjusted to online learning for the most part and are being really supportive and understanding. While the workload is similar to previous years, she noted, the teachers are more lenient on due dates.
“It’s become increasingly difficult to perform well on tests and quizzes,” Kepley said. “Some of my teachers don’t have enough time to teach the material they need to teach and others seem to teach poorly over Zoom class.”
He said the school workload for him seemed to lighten this year, although the content is more difficult. He attributes this change to the Zoom method rather than learning in-person.
In the America’s Promise Alliance survey, 78% of respondents said they spent only four or fewer hours each day in class or working on assignments.
While each of these seniors prepare to move on – many to prestigious universities and some with athletic scholarships – there is some apprehension about next steps after high school. Noe said the pandemic has made it more difficult to make a decision because college visits “do not feel the same as they would in a normal year.”
Lundquist plans to go to college next fall but fears she is not prepared enough after the last year. She said college is different no matter what, but jumping from isolation to a “ginormous campus” is even more overwhelming.
“There’s no real way to prepare for it, but it’s just going to be a huge step,” she said. “And it’ll probably take some getting used to.”