Three Friends, One School Closure

Here's a look into the lives and thoughts of three OTR reporters in different grades since JCPS closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

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Photos by Marilyn Buente

John Woodhouse, Sky Carroll, and Lillian Metzmeier holding up their story for pictures as OTR's first issue arrived.

Words by Sky Carroll, Lillian Metzmeier, and John Woodhouse

We’re the trio that brought you “Digging Up Dirt.” A little over two months ago, we were investigating, interviewing, and writing for our magazine. Now, we’re at home because schools are closed. With three different grade levels, here are our perspectives on COVID-19 and how it’s impacting us.

Commentary from A Senior

By Sky Carroll

I’m Sky Carroll. I’m the Content Director and I’m a high school senior. I love English, all things government, and musicals. Here’s how the past few weeks have gone for me — as I thought the last few months of my senior year were coming to a normal close.

About three weeks ago, our adviser, Ms. Palmer, approached our Editorial Board and asked if we’d thought about what our staff would do if Jefferson County Public Schools (JCPS) were to close due to the coronavirus outbreak. I’m pretty sure I answered her question with a laugh and a confused look. A few seconds later, I said something along the lines of, “I don’t understand why people are freaking out about this. We’re not going to die.” After all, I felt like I had a pretty solid and in-depth understanding of what was happening with the coronavirus — I’m a news freak.

I’d been keeping up with COVID-19 since December. I knew about it the day the media reported on it, but I didn’t really think to discuss it with anyone else — I didn’t know it would result in a pandemic. At the time of our conversation with Ms. Palmer (March 4), there were no confirmed cases in Kentucky, and I didn’t really think there would be. The other editors and I met Ms. Palmer’s question with essentially a shrug of our shoulders; we just said we’d continue working on the magazine from home if something were to happen.

Well, two days later on March 6, Governor Andy Beshear announced the first COVID-19 case in Kentucky. That sure made things seem a whole lot more real. With JCPS already sending out its “Pandemic Viral Event Plan Summary,” I started to consider the possibility of school closures in Kentucky. It came as a shock to my friends when I mentioned it, and I definitely thought we’d close closer to the end of the school year if it had to happen. 

A few days after Ms. Palmer first mentioned that possibility, another one of my teachers asked if anyone thought that JCPS might have to close. I was the only person to raise a hand.

And on March 12, JCPS announced that we’d close on the following Monday until April 6.

That’s what makes this so baffling and scary to me. It happened so fast. It feels like one second, we were confused when someone mentioned a possible school closure. The next, we were waiting for JCPS to announce that we were closed.

To say the least, I’m not happy. I’m mad, frustrated, sad, and bored. Some are excited to be off of school for three weeks. I cannot say the same. This is my senior year. With a closure extending past April 6 becoming more and more likely, that means that more of our senior events will be canceled. My best friends and I canceled our spring break trip today after months of anticipation. We might not get to finish our game of senior soakers. We might not get a senior prom. Maybe no class trip. Maybe not even a graduation ceremony. These last three and a half years have built up to these last few months of senior year — when school becomes less of a struggle and more about spending relaxed time with our friends, classmates, and teachers. It’s hard to know that my class might not get all those senior activities that everyone talks about, the ones my friends and I have been looking forward to for the entirety of our high school careers. I feel like we’ve been cheated. I want someone to blame.

For me, the worst part has to be the timing. It had to happen during lacrosse season. My last lacrosse season. Already, our season can’t resume until April 12, and that’s best case scenario. I can never find the words to explain just how much lacrosse means to me. My teammates are my best friends. Game days are my favorite days. Practice is the best part of my day. The other captains and I tried to organize some player-led practices while we’re out of school, but even that couldn’t happen because of growing COVID-19 concerns. I’ve lost track of the number of times I’ve cried knowing that my favorite time of the year has been cut short.

Senior complaints aside, I’m trying to understand the seriousness of this unprecedented time. Although my friends and I may joke about the coronavirus by calling it “the rona” and laugh about the possibility of an “online” graduation ceremony, I’m a little scared. I’m also worried that some people my age don’t understand the magnitude of this.

Even if you’re not worried about yourself contracting the virus, you should be worried about those who are more susceptible to it, like older people and those with pre-existing medical conditions. Do them and yourself a favor: stay home. I’m encouraging you to think of the bigger picture. Spending a couple weeks at home is going to help make this better. In fact, right now might be the worst time to be out doing anything — there are so many people who may have the virus but just don’t know it because they can’t get tested.

Now that I’ve gone on and on about my senior year and lacrosse and suggestions, I wish to offer some hope. I know that this is hard. After three days at home, my heart hurts because I feel helpless. But I know that my generation, seniors especially, are some of the most resilient people on this planet. So, do something. Do something that will help, whether it’s helping the crisis, or helping yourself. Help a neighbor. Call your grandparents. Partake in family game night. Thank a teacher. Make some goals. Pick up a new hobby. Watch that movie your mom keeps begging you to watch — for instance, “It’s A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood” if you’re my mom.

My frustration has turned more into sadness over the last few days for all the “lasts” I may miss out on. But, I’m trying to turn that sadness into a quest for purpose. No matter how hard it is, I’m convincing myself that we can and we will make the best of this. 

Last night, I was watching “Dr. Phil” (very entertaining) with my mom. He started talking about the coronavirus and how to help with anxiety. After listening, I ended up taking something very useful away from it. I gained a new perspective from how he encouraged people to look at the situation. He explained it like this:

Right now, people are anxious because they see the virus and the pandemic as a huge, unstoppable monster. They see themselves as small individuals who can’t do anything besides be threatened by the monster. We need to switch it. We have to look at ourselves as the big scary monster, and the virus as something that should be scared of us.

For it to be scared of us, we have to come together, support each one another, and do our part. So let’s get to it.

 

Commentary from A Junior

By Lillian Metzmeier

Hi. I’m Lillian Metzmeier, a junior in high school.

As of right now, I am a student who is out of school due to COVID-19. Officially, we’re out until April 6, but it’s likely that our “break,” for lack of a better term, will be lengthened depending on how things are looking. And with the increasing number of cases in our city, it’s not looking great.

On paper, it might sound okay. Out of school for weeks, without homework or a set date on when we return, if at all. I bet if you told me that a month ago, I would be kind of thrilled. However, besides the (not-so-minor) catch of an international crisis, there are many more downfalls when the entire country seems to shut down. 

I’ve been told for so long that junior year is the most important year when it comes to college applications. The hardest year, the one that really counts. So now, as I’m sitting in bed, thinking about my AP United States History notes or my AP Lang essay I should probably work on, I have no idea what will happen — how these absences will reflect on my transcript, my college admissions decisions, my future

I can’t visit colleges — most of them are closed, and besides, it’s not really safe to leave the house. I’m not sure how I will keep up with grades, as in JCPS, our days off are currently being counted as snow days. Personally, I know I’m bound to forget everything I’ve learned thus far in math, and don’t know how I’ll keep up with my AP classes — if the test dates don’t change.

It’s not just academics. I’m a sixteen-year-old girl. Many of my friends have recently gotten their driver’s licenses, I myself have started learning how to drive. We’re experiencing some of our first tastes of freedom, but now it’s like everything has come to a halt — an abrupt, screeching, halt — and nobody knows when things will go back to “normal,” or what that normal will look like. 

I know most of my classmates are distraught over the fact that we may not get to have a prom we’ve been looking forward to for years. For most of us, it would be our first. In fact, I was at Dillard’s looking at dresses around this time last week. It’s wild how fast things have changed. Suddenly, instead of stressing about who will be my date, I’m worried about a pandemic. That in of itself is hard to comprehend; I thought those only happened a long time ago in history textbooks or those dystopian novels I used to obsess over.

It’s bigger than just me having to stay home and I know that; this is a seriously scary situation that’s affecting everybody, whether you’re worried about getting the virus yourself or passing it on to someone that could be in danger. People are losing their jobs, some are losing their lives. It’s difficult for me to try to stress to my peers the severity of our situation and the importance of social distancing. When I see “who wants to link over break” or “what’s the move” on people’s social media stories, I get frustrated. That’s not the point of our time off.

However, I know not all of my peers have done the research I have, as a student journalist who now practically lives on Twitter, refreshing my feed to Courier-Journal reporters and looking through the latest tags that are trending, almost all of them having to do with the latest COVID-19 updates. I know it’s important to stay home — not only for us but for those with underlying conditions that may make them immunocompromised, like my mother — to “flatten the curve” of cases we have. 

It’s a time of uncertainty. Nobody, not civilians, not scientists, not even political leaders knows exactly what to do — and it’s scary. I’m scared. However, it’s important to step back and see what we can do even as high schoolers. 

Know your privilege. If you can stay at your house, please do it. This is a scary time, and unity is what we need the most. Right now, we’re living through history, a time that will be remembered years from now. Be as safe and cautious as you can, not only for yourself but for others.

 

Commentary from A Sophomore

By John Woodhouse

Hello there. I’m John Woodhouse, a sophomore in high school.

I’m currently in my room, participating in social-distancing, and I’m trying to make the best of the situation. My past few days have consisted of watching different Netflix shows, having family movie-nights, and going out for runs. 

With all of this newfound alone time on my hands, I’ve been able to really get a grasp on what the COVID-19 pandemic looks like for me. Personally, I find myself in a weird position. On one hand, I have the same worries that every other high school student in America has right now. I don’t know what the rest of the month, or even the rest of the school year will look like in terms of my education. I’m scared about not having the built-in structure that school provides me by default. I’m not sure when I’ll be able to see my friends again, or what being around them will look like. But on the other hand, I feel lucky, almost. In my eyes, I’m only a sophomore. I’ve already had a normal freshman year of high school to look back on, and I have two more to look forward to. So in that sense, I’m thinking positively. 

But I’m still worried about certain things as well. Like I said before, I’ve been running a lot during isolation. I’m a track-runner, and this pandemic has fallen right in the middle of season. In fact, my outdoor season opener was supposed to be this coming Saturday. I’ve been training since late last year, and these past few weeks of training in particular have been the healthiest, happiest, and strongest feeling practices that I’ve ever done. This track season is one of the biggest motivators that I have for school work and academics. But with the COVID-19 pandemic limiting meetings of large groups of people, and the KHSAA’s decision for a new dead period extending until April 12, the outlook for this season isn’t looking the best. I’m not able to meet with my team or my coaches for the foreseeable future, and I’ve already been feeling the effects. I try to get out and train with the workout plan that my coach has given me, but trying to find the motivation when I feel so alone is incredibly hard, and I’ve been ending my workouts both emotionally and physically drained.

Having trouble finding motivation right now isn’t limited to just athletics though. Everyday is a constant effort to keep a sense of structure and stability in my routine. I’ve been trying to spend an even amount of time in all areas of my life. Whether it’s schoolwork, chores around the house, or personal time, I’ve been making a constant effort in everything that I’m doing.

I think my biggest concern lies in the road ahead. I’m worried about if and when life is going to go back to normal, and what normal is going to be like. I’m worried about my older family, and how the virus is going to progress further.

What I do know though, is how important it is to stay informed, practice good hygiene and self-isolate. It’s easy to feel helpless during a time like this, but I know that what I’m doing everyday matters so much more than I can see.