High school, college students reflect on a year of COVID

From learning online to studying abroad, students struggled to find normalcy

Thelma Grimes
tgrimes@coloradocommunitymedia.com
Posted 3/29/21

During the year of COVID, elementary school students may remember it as the year they did not go to school and spent a lot of time at home. However, for high school and college students, it will be a …

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High school, college students reflect on a year of COVID

From learning online to studying abroad, students struggled to find normalcy

Posted

During the year of COVID, elementary school students may remember it as the year they did not go to school and spent a lot of time at home. However, for high school and college students, it will be a year where they missed out, especially the seniors.

It is going to be remembered as the year where they missed prom and assemblies. It is going to be the year where they did not get to have a normal spring break or athletics. It is going to be the year where seniors in both college and high school did not get to walk across the stage and accept a diploma in front of their peers and families.

In the spring of 2020, Jaime Nats was in her final year of competitive swimming at Boise State. Now a college graduate, Nats said she had already been struggling with a new swim coach. When the COVID pandemic struck, she did not get the final celebrations, she did not get to breathe that sigh of relief you take in finishing a difficult task, she said.

Nats said as spring break grew closer, she had to cancel her plans to go to Las Vegas with friends and instead returned home to Highlands Ranch.

“I remember packing a bag for two weeks,” she said. “I figured I didn’t need anything else and would be back soon.”

That two weeks turned into months, as the Boise State senior soon started working at her parent’s smoothie franchise and assisting patients at the UCHealth Highlands Ranch Hospital.

Nats is majoring in health science and nursing, and soon received a firsthand look at how COVID hit the most vulnerable patients. She gave ice baths to patients suffering from 105-degree temperatures or assisted in re-positioning patients to help them breathe better.

“I think I had some depression and mental health issues, especially from my college coach and no celebratory end of college,” Nats said. “But I was probably the busiest college senior living at home in Colorado, working two jobs and finishing school tests through May. I consider myself lucky. I was not able to sit at home all day every day and make myself sadder about the situation. I also knew I was not the only one going through it. The whole country was.”

Nats, 23, said she did miss having an actual graduation. Boise State did a virtual ceremony where graduates saw names scroll across the screen like a “Star Wars credit,” she said.

Mary Jane Shively did not return to Castle Pines when the world shut down, but instead, stayed on course to finish her master’s degree in Ireland. The 26-year-old was looking forward to a year of traveling abroad while attending the University of Dublin as a major in supply-chain management.

Shively said compared to the U.S., Ireland had many more restrictions which limited her from going further than a few miles away from her home.

“It has been a bit of a letdown, but at the same time you get to be going to school in a foreign country,” she said. “One of the positives of this situation is that I have really gotten to know the community I am living in. If I were able to travel more, I don’t know if I would have found the local hidden gems I have.”

As optimism grows with vaccinations and Ireland hopefully reduces restrictions, Shively said she hopes to spend the summer traveling and enjoying the sites.

“Maybe I will get to travel to Europe and check off some of those boxes,” she said.

For Kassie Barrera, a senior at Thunder Ridge High School, online schooling turned into a nightmare. She began online learning during her junior year last spring, continuing through her senior year.

“Online learning has been an absolute mess,” she said. “English has always been my best subject, and I couldn’t keep up. I feel like you are just working to pass rather than actually working to learn.”

Barrera, 18, normally a student who earns A’s and B’s, said she struggled with online learning, noting that math was not her best subject before COVID and trying to learn virtually made it worse. The senior said she thrives on structure, and online learning does not provide the in-person teaching she received in a traditional classroom setting.

Barrera said it has also been tough to miss out on the traditions high-school seniors should experience.

“I have not been to a school assembly in so long. They say we are going to have a prom,” she said, “but I do not know if I totally believe it. I do try to stay positive and keep my head up. I know shedding tears is not going to bring any of it back.”

The Thunder Ridge senior is excited to resume in-person schooling in April, hoping that some of the traditions such as proms and graduations take place.

Barrera is planning to attend the University of Tampa this fall to study marine biology.

In Parker, 16-year-old Jaya Jackson agreed with Barrera that online learning posed a lot of challenges, noting it often more of a scramble to submit required assignments rather than focus on learning.

“When you are learning online the only thing I am worried about just getting the work done,” said the Chaparral High School junior. “There is not as much learning without being in front of an actual instructor in person.”

Jackson said she is looking forward to returning to the normalcy of in-person learning after spring break and eager to see her friends.

“I would definitely say I learned who my close friends are during this pandemic as we stayed in touch,” she said. “But you don’t realize that you lose that day-to-day interaction with other acquaintances and friends in classes and around the halls.”

Douglas County Schools are scheduled to resume in-person learning on March 22.

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