Dayton-area high school senior leaders share concerns, hopes as final year starts



Apathy and mental health issues are among the top concerns some local high school senior leaders have for fellow students as they start their final school year.

They collectively cite dealing with the educational and social setbacks triggered by COVID’s remote learning, a lack of motivation, being “burdened” with choosing a future direction while balancing academic challenges and the need to “foster a supportive environment.”

More than one in four teens have reported receiving mental health treatment, according to a 2022 poll for the National Alliance of Mental Illness. That same survey found 25% of teens have been diagnosed with a mental health condition.



Mental health concerns and post-high school plans were among the issues the following senior high school leaders in Greene, Miami, Montgomery and Warren counties addressed in responding to a series of questions from the Dayton Daily News:

•Jessica Cleaves, Fairborn High School senior class president;

•Bella Deppen, Fairmont High School United Student Body president;

•Cole Heidenreich, Springboro High School senior class president;

•Katie Jordan, Miss Wayne High School;

•Milan Khachane, Centerville High School senior class president;

•Ava McCoy, Troy High School student body vice president.



Brian Boyd, chair of teacher education at Wright State University, reviewed the students’ responses and said it left him feeling hopeful.

“We hear often about ‘learning loss’ during — and since — the pandemic,” he said. “But what’s clear is that kids are still learning and developing — maybe not in ways we think are important, but they are.”

“The students here are reflecting on who they are and what’s important to them. Some describe the pressure in this, and others notice some apathy or lack of motivation among their classmates,” Boyd added.

As a whole, the 2024 senior class continues to be impacted by the pandemic, although “school for them now feels close to normal,” University of Dayton Assistant Professor Rochonda Nenonene said.



“They exhibit clear interests in their education, and as a result of their online experiences have approached school by accepting alternative modes of education,” she added.

Below are the students’ responses in interviews with the Dayton Daily News, with minor editing for space.

DDN: What are your plans beyond high school?

Cleaves: Attend college to receive a bachelor’s degree in biology, and later attend PA school to become a physician’s assistant.

Deppen: Attending college and trying to decide what I really love to do!

Heidenreich: I hope to attend a four-year university to get a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering with a concentration in interplanetary systems. My top choices as of now are Purdue and Tennessee.

Jordan: To attend an out-of-state college and a good nursing school. I also want to live and work close to a beach and be able to fulfill my nursing career further on in life.



Khachane: I envision myself at a large university, pursuing a career in business.

McCoy: To go to college to major in nursing with hopes to do something with radiology, doing X-rays or ultrasounds. If not that, then I want to get my BSN and do travel nursing. If I figure out sooner rather than later that nursing isn’t my thing, I think doing something in marketing would be the next best thing.

DDN: What are you looking forward to this school year?

Cleaves: Connecting with new students and old friends, and really just taking in my final year of high school.

Deppen: Taking everything in that I can! Senior year is so bittersweet, and I want to make sure I don’t take anything for granted. I am so excited to experience my last football games, homecoming, spirit chain and prom.



Heidenreich: Seeing all my classmates’ hard work pay off, as it has been really neat to see how resilient and determined Springboro’s senior class is. I am also excited for participation in all the themed events, whether it be powderpuff flag football or all the students going as crazy as possible at all of the sports games. There truly is no party like a Panther party.

Jordan: Having a fun and successful senior year. I want to make all the school and sporting events fun for all students at Wayne. I’m looking forward to meeting and bonding with new people and seeing myself grow as a person.

Khachane: Embracing my role as class president by serving as a good role model and using the platform to speak on behalf of my peers. I also look forward to playing tennis for the final year and making memories with my teammates.

McCoy: All the sporting events and just being involved in everything that my school has to offer. I love being there cheering on my classmates. It’s one of my favorite things and sporting events give me something to always look forward to.

DDN: What is a top concern for students in your grade?

Cleaves: The lack of motivation. After the COVID-19 pandemic, many students have found it difficult to get back in the habit of being a student. What helped me with this was reminding myself how accomplished I’d feel after getting my work done and performing well in school.



Deppen: My top concern for students at Fairmont is apathy. I hate seeing students who have so little enthusiasm for what they are doing. I want people to feel excited about school and realize that things really are what you make of them! A positive attitude and some enthusiasm can go farther than people think.

Heidenreich: Mental wellbeing. For seniors, it seems all of a sudden, students are burdened with not only the task of choosing what direction they want to go in life, but also with all of the normal stress load from school … I hope that I can introduce more mental health initiatives in Springboro that can target students in need and have them find a proper solution.

Jordan: What the future holds for us after graduation. We are thinking about what specialty or job really interests us, what colleges we want to attend, or — if college is not in the future of some students — considering what other paths we could take that would benefit us.

Khachane: I’ve noticed that it’s hard for students to balance mental health and academic pressure. The high school workload can be demanding, and I’m concerned that mental health is sacrificed too often for academics. I think it’s crucial to foster a supportive environment and break the stigma surrounding seeking help.

McCoy: My top concern … is just that they start thinking about their future. Picking what you want to do fresh out of high school is a very difficult decision because you are still young and there are so many different paths that you can take. Opportunities are endless, so I hope everyone in my grade finds their mojo doing something that they love. Going to college isn’t for everyone.

DDN: What do you most regret about your time in high school that you would like to accomplish this year?

Cleaves: Staying with the same group of friends. This year I want to prioritize talking to students I have never talked to before and building new friendships.

Deppen: I don’t have any regrets so far about my high school experience. A lot of the choices I have made shaped me as a person. A goal I have for this year is to make the school more inclusive. I want to make Fairmont a place where everyone feels welcome!

Heidenreich: Not challenging myself and tapping into my full potential. I feel as an underclassman I took the easy way out for many things which not only led to increased laziness, but also a lack of preparedness once I figured out what I truly wanted to do.

Jordan: Paying more attention to what I am being taught. The older I got, the more I realized how my classes in high school are important and useful in my life. This year, I want to apply what I will learn in my classes to the real world.

Khachane: Not dedicating enough time to learning about my culture. My parents taught me about my culture and religion, but I want to experience it firsthand. I’m visiting India for the first time, hoping to develop an understanding of my roots and a deeper connection to my cultural identity.

McCoy: Not studying and not trying harder. I just got by to get by and that’s my biggest regret because that limits a lot of my scholarship opportunities. I honestly don’t think that I’ve pushed myself to the limits as to what I can achieve.

DDN: What advice do you have for freshmen?

Cleaves: To put yourself out there. I joined just about every club there was to offer my freshman year. And although I could not keep up with all of them, I had a great time and I learned a lot about leadership and working as a team.

Deppen: This is super cliché, but it goes by so fast, take everything in. Don’t put too much pressure on yourself because usually everything ends up working out.

Heidenreich: Explore. Try everything you can while you have time. Whether it be joining a club, signing up for a sport, or registering for a class that might be outside your comfort zone, explore all the options you can to figure out what you enjoy doing and what you want to do with your life.

Jordan: To take your classes and your grades seriously. Show commitment in the classes you take, and do not quit or give up if classes get complex or difficult.

Khachane: To challenge yourself with classes and develop good study habits. Ask for help from your teachers if you feel that you are falling behind because they are here to help you.

McCoy: To not take things for granted because as you grow up you never know when it will be your last time doing something. Another thing is to be involved in as much as you can. It’s fun and it opens lots of opportunities for you. The last thing is to push yourself in the classroom and take the hard classes.

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