Incoming high school seniors were freshmen when remote learning hit due to COVID and canceled all extracurricular activities for them.
For two years, they weathered mask mandates, contact tracing requirements and shortages in school staff and teachers. These are among the factors, some local education specialists said, that led to some students’ stunted social and emotional growth.
Nationwide, dozens of fatal school shootings have occurred since they entered high school, as have civil and racial unrest, and deep, ongoing political divisions.
The class of 2023 entered high school “with all of the rites of passage expectations that society places on high school and were met with cancellations, alterations, and overall uncertainty,” according to Tracey Kramer, who works with many area schools as Wright State University’s director of office of partnerships and field experiences.
“They’re probably in the one of the most pivotal times in my lifetime in terms of social changes,” said Treavor Bogard, chair of teacher education at the University of Dayton.
Bogard noted “the instability and lack of structure” in the education environment that began with COVID shutdowns in the spring of their freshmen year.
Learning gaps resulted, but — as a whole — the class of 2023 has been resilient, Bogard said. Their achievements should not necessarily be judged by traditional successes in course requirements or grade point averages, he added.
“I would encourage them to think in terms of what they’ve had to do to adapt and how that they have managed these changes and how they’ve become more like working professionals than we’ve ever expected children to be in terms of managing the requirements and expectations of school,” he said.
“This class can take pride in looking at a more portfolio-based kind of view, a broader view … that may not be in a set of content standards. I think that they’ve learned far beyond what those standards would indicate,” Bogard added.
As they embark on their final year of high school, the Dayton Daily News posed a series of questions to Dayton-area incoming senior leaders. Those responding included:
•Arushi Agrawal, board of education student representative at Centerville High School;
•Anthony Green, Ponitz Career Technology Center, president of Dayton Public Schools females and males of color programs;
•Mallory McCall, united student body vice president, Kettering Fairmont High School;
•Sean Nichols, Tippecanoe High School student senate vice president;
•Tate Rudisill, Springboro High School senior class president;
•Megan Rybitski, Wayne High School’s Miss Wayne, an ambassador for the school.
What is a top concern for students in your grade?
The college application process and decision results during senior year can be extremely stressful. That is why mental health is a top concern of mine. Mental health initiatives are constantly being taken, such as introducing HOPE SQUAD, inviting suicide prevention speakers, and heavily advocating usage of the student safety hotline.
A top concern for upcoming seniors, in my opinion, is that they feel the overwhelming need to succeed right away. They fear the feeling and experience of failure.
One of my biggest concerns for students in my grade is that they will not take advantage of the opportunities their high school gives them and they will wait until it is too late to get involved in their high school and their community.
My top concern for students in my grade is mental health. Some of us will be worrying about college applications and scholarships, while others will be worrying about finding places and apprenticeships in the workforce. After high school, many of us will experience drastic changes in our lives. This could be anything from finding a job to moving into college to serving and protecting our country.
The mental health and well-being of the students grow to be a more pressing matter each year. It’s vital to make sure each and every one feels comfortable at school. It’s easy to overlook another person’s needs for your own, but it’s the job of the administration, staff, and students to look out for one another and be empathetic.
A concern I would hear consistently from my peers would be life after high school. I know that sounds generic, but it’s scary to think about making such a quick change from something you’ve been used to for the past 12 years. Leaving the people you’re closest to in a span of summer break is crazy to think about.
How has the COVID pandemic impacted you?
I didn’t realize how much the pandemic had impacted me until junior year. I had missed making meaningful connections and being in an actual classroom environment with other students immensely. COVID impacted the quality of my learning and helped me acknowledge the importance of having mental health resources available for students.
Honestly, it helped me a lot because it gave me time to isolate and look at my life differently and appreciate my struggle in life.
The pandemic was a struggle because it took away some of the most crucial time and events in my high school career. I am hoping that this year, I will be able to make up for lost time by participating in many different activities and having an amazing senior year!
(It) has opened my eyes to how interconnected the whole world is. Product shortages and supply chain issues really emphasize the level of reliance we have on one another to do our part in society so we can all progress and live comfortably.
The pandemic isolated a lot of people during the 2020-2021 school year. Fortunately, we’ve been able to get back to what we now deem as normal. Going to school will never be the same as it was before, but I think that’s OK. The most important thing for everyone is that we understand and respect each other’s boundaries moving forward.
(It) taught me a lot my freshman and sophomore year. The unwanted can really sneak up on you, especially in two weeks. You really can’t take anything for granted. Take chances and risks when you can, it’s your first time living life so you better make it worth it.
What are you looking forward to this school year?
I certainly look forward to making new friends and realizing more about myself and my future. However, what I’m most excited for is enjoying one last year of “Elk pride,” partaking in senior festivities, and celebrating the next chapter of our lives at graduation with loved ones.
Learning more about myself, meeting new students and inspiring them. Also, I am ready to graduate.
Being involved in every aspect of Fairmont. Whether that is attending all sporting events or going to the orchestra concerts, I want to be immersed in every activity at Fairmont. I am also especially excited to raise money for Spirit Chain!
Celebrating my last year and cheering on my friends and classmates in their sporting events on our “Hype Squad.” I am also excited to take on the challenging classes I have enrolled in.
The school spirit. At Springboro, we love to rally behind our various sports teams and participate in spirit days. As class president and a leader of our student section (The Blue Crew), I play a large part in organizing many of these events.
I’m most looking forward to football and track season. The energy surrounding the two is unmatched and always gets me hyped. Helping plan pep rallies and spirit weeks is also going to be a big highlight of my year.
What advice do you have for freshmen?
I cannot stress enough the importance of having balance during your high school career. Receiving good grades are extremely important, but so is taking care of yourself. Find things that make you happy and make time for what that may be!
Focus on yourself, have self-discipline, and make decisions you feel will lead you in the right direction! Your friends will respect you falling back to focus on yourself if they are genuinely your friends.
My biggest advice to freshmen would be to get involved in anything you can! There are so many different opportunities in high school and in the community to find something you love to do. Whether it is playing a sport or joining class council, try to find your passion!
My advice for freshmen is to make memories while you can. People talk about how time flies, and you disregard that until you blink and you’re already entering your senior year.
Get involved! Sports are fun, but there’s a different type of enjoyment you can gain from being active in your school and meeting new people. It might seem corny or embarrassing, but taking pride in being a student of your school is fulfilling in the long run.
When people say that those four years go by quickly, they aren’t lying. There are 86,400 seconds in a day, so use them!
What are your plans beyond high school?
To attend college to either pursue a career in medicine or business. While many things are still up in the air for me, I am positive I would like to minor in Spanish and that I will always find a way to be involved in my new community and school.
To start a nationwide summer program that helps young men and women see that there is more to life than what they may believe. I will make more specific targets about what I want the program to achieve as I travel and learn more about demographics.
To earn a bachelor’s degree in political science. Then, I hope to attend law school and prepare to take the bar exam in order to practice law. I also hope to make a collegiate cheerleading team and compete at the next level.
To attend Purdue University and study mechanical engineering.
On attending college for a four-year degree in either creative advertising or visual communication design. I hope to use my love of the arts and working with others to pursue a career in advertising or art direction.
On attending college to study biological sciences. I hope to continue my track and field career as well by competing during both the indoor and outdoor seasons.