HS Insider

Two perspectives on being a high school senior during the pandemic

Ellie Chang (Left) and Pru Yontrarak (Right) are high-school seniors. Images via Ellie Chang and Pru Yontrarak.

For many students, being a senior in high school seems daunting in and of itself. But, it is simultaneously rumored to be the best of the four years, a series of celebrations and time spent with friends.

Two high school seniors shared how these characterizations of the school year have changed or stayed the same, and how they compare to the reality of being a senior during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Pru Yontrarak attends La Cañada High School (just outside of Los Angeles), which has a student population of about 2,077 students. Ellie Chang attends Woodside Priory High School (just outside of San Francisco), which has a student population of about 375 students.

What was the beginning of quarantine like for you?

Pru: “I think that the very beginning of quarantine was kind of exciting because I thought it would be a very long spring break and no one was really taking it too seriously.”

Ellie: “I was honestly relieved when I first heard that school was going to be canceled. I had so much work for the next week and I thought I was finally getting a break. There was just no way to predict that a few days would turn into several months.”

Did you feel that school was harder or easier online (during the beginning of the pandemic)?

Pru: “It was definitely easier, many teachers weren’t sure of how to conduct classes online, so they just gave us easy work to turn in for credit. Although it was easier, I did not learn much during that period.”

Ellie: “I thought it was easier because it was right when everyone was starting to get ready for AP tests. I was expecting to have to take 3 hour long tests, but since no one knew how to work distance learning, those became open notes.”

Has that changed now or remained the same?

Pru: “It has definitely changed now. We actually have a school schedule that we follow rather than just doing our assignments at any time in the day. And all the teachers know how to use Zoom, so that makes learning a lot better. Even then, I don’t think that it is as effective as in-school learning.”

Ellie: “I didn’t factor in how difficult it would be once my school figured out how to navigate the whole online system. I took on a huge workload for my senior year and it’s much more difficult than the spring was.”

As a senior, how has your experience with the college application process been?

Pru: “I think that I’m doing okay and my essays are coming along. I’ve turned in my early decision, UC’s and USC. The rest of them aren’t due until January but I’ve written drafts for nearly all of them already. Oh, and my teachers and my counselor are really nice! They let us share our essays with them and they leave little comments on the side for things we should fix. It’s very helpful!”

Ellie: “I was very fortunate to do well on my standardized testing before the pandemic, so that’s made this task more feasible. I think starting early was key. I’m very deadline-driven, so working with my counselor has been great to keep me on track every week.”

Has your school been able to host any senior traditions or events? How has this impacted your senior class?

Pru: “We still have senior dress-up day, which was one of the activities that I was most looking forward to. We get to wear senior crowns and everyone goes all out. It’s held at a local church in the parking lot area instead of our school though. I think that’s the only tradition/event we really have, but it’s still pretty nice to see some friends. Also I hope that we still get our graduation!”

Ellie: “My class is small — just 70 people. So, as a member of ASB, I’ve been working with my school to make our traditions COVID friendly. We are a catholic school so, in early October, we had a senior sunset chapel and we held a few outdoor movie events. But, especially with this recent spike, they have proven to be pretty unsafe, which is pretty unfortunate. Lately, we have moved most events onto zoom. We had tea and scones with our monks!”

Are your activities able to resume now? How have they been adjusted?

Pru: “I teach piano and violin and I’ve been doing this throughout quarantine, except I’ve adapted to teaching piano on Zoom using my computer camera to show my face and my phone camera to show my hands. I also do a computer science competition through CyberPatriot, but it’s a small group so we met up at my house outside and with masks to compete; That didn’t change too much. Speech and debate is now online over Zoom, which seems to be running smoothly now that we use breakout rooms and compete in online tournaments. I don’t play any sports or have activities that require a large group of people so overall my activities haven’t changed much.”

Ellie: “For me, one of my main activities was working. We got shut down and it was extremely difficult to see this happen to a small business that I had been working with for so long. In terms of volleyball, our club season in the spring got cut super short and the league postponed our varsity season until the end of the year at least. Honestly … it doesn’t look like it’s going to happen. As someone who was hoping to get scouted for college, that’s devastating. I guess one positive is that my internship (regarding community outreach to underprivileged K12 school districts) is a lot more flexible to my schedule because it is virtual. But, of course, I think it would be better face to face.”

What would you be doing right now if it weren’t for the pandemic?

Pru: “I would probably be in school and understanding calculus a lot better. But, aside from that, I think that I would be doing all my activities in person, such as going to debate competitions. I would also be out shopping and getting boba a lot with my friends. And, I would probably be at the roller skating rink with my friend because I miss that so much! Oh, and I would be having in-person interviews for college and college visits which would be super nice.”

Ellie: “That’s kind of a hard question to answer. I know that I would be going through a lot of the same things: college apps, classes, etc. But I miss volleyball and being with friends so much. Without COVID, I think I would be spending more of my time this year being social and hanging out with people. Also, I recently got my driver’s license — I think I’d be using that a lot more.”

Do you know what your school is planning to do for the second semester?

Pru: “Kindergarteners through second graders have actually already gone back, but I don’t think our highschool will because cases are rising again.”

Ellie: “As of now, our school still plans to go back mid-January, in person. It would be a gradual re-opening. Since we are also a boarding school, it’s difficult to plan because this all depends on international policies too. We usually have students in dorms and I’m not sure how they will be accounting for that. Everyone’s situation is so different. We have an open campus, with no indoor hallways. Theoretically, that should help.”

Now completely unfiltered, how are you?

Pru: “Haha I’m okay I guess. I really miss all my friends but honestly I’m kinda used to it which is very sad.”

Ellie: “It’s been tough. It feels like there is a never-ending flow of stuff to do and it never feels like there’s enough time. What used to feel super important, now feels optional. My best friends live in Albania and Los Angeles. FaceTime is everything.”

What is something you would tell your pre-pandemic self?

Pru: “I think I’d tell myself to hang out with my friends a lot and appreciate my time being with them in person because I wouldn’t be able to do that later. Also that I should wash my hands more often.”

Ellie: “Brace yourself for this one. You’re gonna watch everything change and you’ll have to become more independent. But, you’ll get through it just fine. Oh, and look around you; remember to be grateful.”

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