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Seniors endure a spring without traditions

Jasmine Hyatt, who looked forward to spring dance competitions, now works out at home. Jasmine Hyatt, who looked forward to spring dance competitions, now works out at home.

At Hendersonville High School, end-of-year traditions are legend.


April and May fly by in a whirlwind of time-honored events that generations of Bearcat students have experienced — the senior play, senior skip day, honors assembly, Move Up and graduation.
At Move Up, the emotional farewell on the last day of school, seniors hand off the school leadership to the juniors before marching out of the auditorium in a sea of red gowns and mortarboards. In the anticlimactic graduation that night, the top seniors deliver parting words to their classmates. Except this year, no one knows if commencement will even happen.
“Even if I don’t get to speak at graduation, I will still write and recite my speech as a farewell to my high school years,” says Kathryn Thomas, the projected valedictorian, who will enroll at Duke this fall.
Thomas, as well as other Hendersonville High School students, have realized how vital a school routine actually is.
“This has really proven to be an important life lesson,” Thomas says. “I will never again take advantage of getting up early to go and see my friends.”
KathrynThomasKathryn ThomasGone is the classroom experience, lunches on the campus with friends and face-to-face conversations about boys and girls and pre-calc. Now students socialize by driving to a parking lot and chatting through the window.
In the school’s senior play, another tradition that propels the exiting students into their next chapter, the singers and actors work tirelessly under the guidance of theater teacher Todd Weakley to produce a show that draws people from across the county. This year’s play, a new take on All Shook Up, was slated to star Ellie Stout, a Converse College-bound senior.
Like his colleagues, Weakley is still teaching, in a far different way than he’s accustomed to.
“I have several students who always attend my live classes with a younger sibling either sitting on their lap or playing in the background,” he says. “These are not normal times so I cannot have normal expectations.”
Along with sports and clubs, students are missing other events.
Jasmine Hyatt, a talented Pat’s School of Dance student and HHS senior, has committed to dancing at Dean College in Boston in the fall. This time of year dancers put in hours of hard work to shine at competitions across the state. Hyatt now practices her routines at home.
Student-athletes are striving to maintain their focus. Many coaches, such as women’s soccer coach Kayla Lindsey, are hosting zoom video meetings to keep in touch with the team and lead at-home workouts. Additionally, coaches are keeping in contact with the team academically to ensure student-athletes do not need a tutor.
Guidance counselors Dan Kealy and Susan McKenzie say technology allows teaching to continue.
“A few years ago, a wholesale transition to online spaces like Google Classroom and online meetings like Google Meet would have been out of the question,” they said. “Now, thankfully, we have both the capacity and the professional development experience to make that transition possible.”
Although teachers remain impressed with the fluidity that students have shown during a major transition, they know the virtual world is a poor substitute for the classroom experience.
“Teachers don’t teach so that they can post and grade assignments,” says English teacher David Cain. “Teachers teach because of students. Remove the students, and it’s hard to feel like a teacher. So, it’s been a hard transition.”
The state waived standardized End-Of-Grade and End-Of-Course tests. Advanced Placement students also face a major change in exams for the 2020 year. The College Board ordered all exams to be taken at home while shortening the tests to under an hour.
Faculty morale remains high and the front desk is surprisingly busy fielding calls, says principal Bobby Wilkins. In accordance with the state-mandated order, Wilkins announced that only 10 teachers could be on campus at a time. While challenges continue to rise, Wilkins and the HHS teachers share the common thought that students must come first in every aspect of this change. The students, enduring an unforgettable school year, are hoping for a return to tradition as spring draws to a close.
“My main goal despite all of this,” says Hyatt, the dancer, “is making sure I get to walk that stage in June.”

‘My heart is broken for the seniors’

 

Prom. Graduation. Routine. Friends. Caps, gowns, tassels, medals, cords.
The class of 2020, the first cohort of kids to live through a pandemic in more than a century, does not know if they’ll experience those senior traditions.
“When I first heard that we were not going to school, I felt kind of weird about it,” senior Aleigha Kozlik says. “When they extended the date to May 15, it became more of a big deal because everything is getting canceled or postponed. Ever since I moved here, I found my group of friends, and I thought it would be fun to get to celebrate my last few months with them.”
The Henderson County school system implemented the Learn From Home initiative to continue student learning amid the pandemic. Teachers have led classes on Google Meet and continued posting assignments through Google Classroom.
“I really miss the interactions with my students,” science teacher Amy Zalevskiy says. Teaching remotely “is not my favorite. Our interactions make it fun for me. My students keep me entertained, on my toes. This will do for now, because it’s what we have to do, but it’s not what I want to do long term. It’s challenging to keep kids engaged and motivated. A lot of education is on kids to do the learning, but a lot of those kids don’t have the self-motivation to do their work without a teacher” in a classroom setting.
Senior Graham Grush has kept up his studies even as the testing requirements for AP courses have been relaxed.
“I’m never one to just stop doing work even if I know my grade won’t get punished for it,” he says. “I still feel responsible to learn the stuff even if I’m not being graded on it. I know some other people don’t feel the same way but I will feel more prepared for college. I feel more comfortable when I finish my work early. We’re just learning review material since they’re not allowed to teach us anything new.”
Some students struggle to find motivation to do their work, but many juniors are working hard for the next goal.
“My main motivation is that I still have to get into college so I still have to try,” junior Zoya Zalevskiy says. “I don’t like having APs online because they’re harder. You need more in-class time to understand the content.”
Juniors took college prep tests before the stay-at-home order closed schools.
“We had the ACT that West provides,” junior Haley Dunnigan says. “We just got our scores back in the mail. Some people are frantic because they want to retake the test since they’re not happy with their original score, and they don’t know when they’ll be able to retake it. I feel fine because I was really on top of taking my tests in the beginning of the year and not rushing to do it at the end of junior year. I don’t feel too affected (by test cancellations), but it would be nice to retake the ACT one more time. They’re having one in July so I assume it will be fine by then.”
The cancellation of the spring sports season was hard on athletes.
“Having the season cut short was and is definitely a bummer,” senior Quinn Schreiber says. “I loved track. It was my favorite sport mostly because it’s what I was most competitive at and where I could truly test my limits. Now that it has been canceled, I don’t have that outlet that it provided. It had given me something to work for and goals to reach and now having that stripped from me hurts especially because I feel like I had really just hit my stride my junior season and was hoping to go above and beyond this year.”
Coaches are saddened by the loss of spring sports, too.
“I am just looking forward to seeing my students and athletes,” track coach Faith Stoker says. “My heart is broken for the seniors. I really just want to reassure everyone and give them hope. I hope all students know that every teacher and coach out there is rooting for them. We want everyone to be successful. We certainly did not plan for 2020 to be this way and truly miss you all.”
West’s principal, Shannon Auten, feels the loss every day she walks the empty halls.
“It’s so sad to be in our school without teachers or students there, and to think of the milestones and events and celebrations we look forward to,” she says. “Hopefully they’re just postponed for now, but it’s hard to just see kids on the internet and not their faces. I just want to hug people. It’s hard to be limited to such a small number of people. I think about the students who struggle with online learning and those who don’t have everything they need. It’s heartbreaking. But the celebrations are going to be even more special when we can all be together again.”

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Gracie Milner is a junior at Hendersonville High School. Elise Trexler, who was named N.C. High School Journalist of the Year, is a senior at West Henderson High School who will enroll at UNC at Chapel Hill in the fall.