Many of life’s greatest challenges are uncontrollable. When we face them, we push ourselves to refocus our values, discover what truly matters in our lives, and establish our new normal. But what is our new normal now, as opposed to what it was before? For students and community members alike, it has meant adapting to a new way of life. The COVID-19 pandemic or coronavirus has taken a lot from us. But through the unknown, the community of Dayton continues to adapt and grow stronger than before.
Entering the second semester of my junior year, my classmates and I were excited to begin our latest chapter in school. We anticipated a new semester full of adventures and growth. As a junior, I was eager to continue my education and prepare for my long-awaited final year of high school.
I first learned about the growing threat of the coronavirus a few months after my second term had begun. At the time, there was no reason for concern among both myself and my peers. We made jokes and shared memes, having no idea that this growing virus would effectively cancel all of our school celebrations and community gatherings, while also keeping us indoors for an undetermined amount of time.
Then things began changing on every level. And with this influx of change, I realized that this pandemic was going to alter all of our lives in big ways. The first moment I began to understand the drastic nature of this pandemic was when all of Dayton’s sports events, band gatherings, FFA activities and out of school field trips were canceled. After that, the school district itself closed, as we moved to remote distance-learning. Needless to say, making the difficult decision to cancel these events was painful for the entire community. The environment that was once spearheaded by Dayton School District’s energetic pirate pride was dimmed by the overarching news of the cancellations of our special events. As a devoted band member, I finally felt the crushing weight of this mass pandemic after our state championships were canceled. At this point, my student peers and I finally understood how this virus was going to start affecting our lives.
The cancellation of school was an important decision made to protect our community, but both students and teachers were unsure of the road to come. The Dayton community had never faced such a drastic public health concern before and adapting to this new normal was not going to be easy. As a student, I had many questions and concerns. How were we going to effectively communicate with our teachers? How was testing going to work? Were we going to have to make up classes next year? Listening to my peers, I realized I wasn’t alone in these feelings. As the weeks progressed, I eased into my new normal; distance learning. I found myself attending an English class from my living room, performing independent PE activities from my backyard, and watching many khan academy videos to get me through my math class. It was scary to head into this unknown territory. As a student, there have been plenty of ups and downs to these wide-reaching adjustments. One of my biggest struggles adapting to the change has been the communication barriers I’ve faced through distance learning. Communication is limited through a computer, notably by internet connection issues or time restraints. Not having face-to-face interaction has affected me on both an academic and emotional level. Simply not having access to immediate answers as I did before has affected my motivation and routine. However, it has also forced me to accept unfamiliar changes in order to see myself succeed. Through these changes, I have been amazed by the innovation of each and every staff member to improve our distance learning experience.
Since the launch of our new distance learning dynamic, Dayton High School English teacher, Dr. Sherri Sinicki, has constantly been growing and adjusting to this experience. “Teachers live to see their students’ faces and those interactions are crucial.¨ She expressed the difficulty of losing the positive energy her classes once had and the challenge of being away from her students. Reflecting on her own observations, she described a deep focus between her and staff, centered around the safety and happiness of each student, as opposed to technical academic concerns. “It isn’t about the student not completing their schoolwork, but why they aren’t completing their school work. Are they in an environment that is no longer safe for them? That runs through our heads every day.” She says. Despite the difficulty of these adjustments, she highlights the importance of being gracious. “Humans are extremely resilient.” she said, “Through compassion and grace we will get through this.”
The extended community of Dayton has made me feel as if the road ahead is not as scary as I once thought before. I am supported by both the school district and the community who work to ensure the safety and well being of every community member. I am inspired by the collective efforts each member contributes. Of these inspiring community members is Alexandria Bowlin, a staff member, local photographer and mother of five that has worked tirelessly to create sanitary masks for the community. Along with the community, the Dayton School District has also worked to provide relief to the community members that are in need.
One way that the Dayton School District is supporting the community is by providing breakfast and lunch via schoolbus delivery for Dayton students. Pam Johnson, a lunch service provider at Dayton High School, helped with the efforts of providing over 65 meals to students and families of the community within the first week of distance learning alone. On another level, Facebook is updated with frequent posts and messages from the Dayton community, offering help to anyone who needs it. I have observed and experienced a general sense of unity through this extremely difficult time that has brought the Dayton community together.
As I am entering my senior year, I can both expect and hope to return to my final year of my high school. For this year’s graduates, the experience is drastically different.
Kennedy Shilhanek is a Dayton High School graduate who felt these impacts beyond just her final school year. Kennedy is an avid student who participated in many out-of-school and extracurricular activities such as softball, FBLA, and ASB. While academics are a really important part of her life, teacher and student peer interactions are extremely important to her as well. Kennedy says: “I often found myself learning essential life skills beyond the curriculum with my teachers, something that is nearly impossible through distance learning.” One of her biggest struggles adapting to distance learning has been losing the atmosphere of high school and many of the small moments, such as chats with her friends or going out for lunch; everyday moments that are easily taken for granted.
She expressed her grief for the loss of “Senior Season” which is one of the most excitable parts of many students’ high school careers. “Losing prom and graduation – those pivotal moments that encase so many memories – was hard for me. But I remember that i’m entering a new chapter of my life and that’s exciting all on its own.” While the change hasn’t been easy for her, Kennedy remains focused on pursuing a college education at PSU to double major in public health and political science, and minor in women’s studies. Reflecting on the experiences of both herself and the entire class of 2020, Kennedy says, “I am uplifted and encouraged now more than ever because everyone is coming together with such a strong sense of unity. We will come out stronger than ever before.”
Through this difficult experience, Dayton has developed a greater level of strength and connection. Through resilience and grace, we have innovated and thrived through even the most difficult moments. I want to give a big congratulations to the class of 2020 and a thank you for teaching the community, students, and teachers alike, how to come out stronger in the face of adversity while creating hope for generations to follow.
Hannah White is a senior at Dayton High School. With a love for people of all kinds, she aspires to study developmental psychology. She’s also passionate about all things music, having learned violin, trombone, and played euphonium for the Dayton High School band.