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‘I Walked Out of My High School for the Last Time Without Knowing It’

A high school senior shares all the feelings that come with approaching a big milestone in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic.

By Laura Zingg

April 29, 2020

Teach For America student and high school senior Emma Logan

Emma Logan is a senior at Denver Montessori Senior High School in Denver, Colorado, where her younger brother Max also attends. Emma is also a Future10X fellow, a student-led research and design fellowship incubated at Teach For America Colorado.

Since Emma’s school closed after spring break due to COVID-19, she has been attending classes online along with millions of students across the country. All Denver Public Schools will remain closed throughout the remainder of the academic year. Like many high school seniors, Emma won’t be attending a traditional in-person graduation ceremony this June. She shares how she is adjusting to attending class online, what she misses most about school, and how she’s preserving senior traditions while social distancing.

‘I’ve Lost So Much Motivation’

What has the transition to remote learning been like for you? 

It’s been difficult. I'm usually one of those people that can handle time management and technology pretty well. I'm lucky enough to have my own computer at home and consistent wifi access. As far as understanding the assignments we are supposed to be turning in, I've been doing okay with that so far. 

But I've also lost so much motivation because it was announced that the entire district will switch to a credit/no-credit system for the whole semester. So I'm kind of stuck in a place where I don’t have a lot of other things to do, so I want to do every assignment because I'll just take any brain stimulation I can get. But it's also really hard to do that when I don't necessarily have to. 

What do you think has been the most challenging?

Because we’re a Montessori school, learning has always been pretty communal. I'm a teaching assistant for my class and I’m used to helping other students. I know as a senior and as a leader in my community, I need to step it up right now to help people who are struggling.

But that's even harder to do because of the distance and lack of communication. Unless those students are in my online classes or in my advisement or directly ask for my help over Snapchat, it's a lot harder to identify the students that need help.

Emma attends online classes in the mornings with a small cohort of 10 students.

Do you feel like you have the support you need right now?

Teachers have been really supportive and are acknowledging the financial and mental health challenges that a lot of students are facing right now. We also have school wide assemblies on Google Meet. But I think the difficult part is the students who have always really struggled—you can't corner them at school and sit down and do work with them.

I think the kids who are falling through the cracks are people who have always struggled with the soft skills required to be successful, like communication. And now that's really all school is. If you're really good at math but not so good at answering your email, you're going to fail math right now.

A lot of the interpersonal skills that schools don't teach so much are what's needed to be successful in school right now. I think a lot of traditional schools don't necessarily teach time management, how to communicate in a professional way, empathy, or how to deal with a crisis or trauma. And those are the skills students need right now. 

Screenshot of Emma and her younger brother Max on Google Meet, sharing a laptop while they work on their Spanish lesson.

‘I Have a Bit of a Routine Which I Think is Good’

What does a typical day look like for you now that you're doing distance learning?

I have an advisement period in Google Meet every day at 8:30 A.M. That has provided some structure. I do need to get out of bed at a certain time and actually put on a shirt every day. I have a bit of a routine, which I think is good. 

After advisement, we break into cohorts. The same 10 people go from English to history to chemistry. We have a couple of lessons in the morning, and then a lunch break. And that's probably an hour and a half when you can get your lessons done.

And then in the afternoon, it's optional office hours with teachers. But if you don't need that help, you tend to be done with the school day.

Outside of online school, what activities are you doing? How are you keeping busy? 

I’ve been decorating my graduation cap for our graduation. That's probably not going to happen. But it's pretty. I’ve been working on some projects for a youth advocacy and civic engagement organization in Colorado, which is mostly done online anyway. I’m also planning a digital senior prank right now. 

Emma has been decorating her graduation cap, but it’s unclear when she will get to celebrate with her class.

What is going to happen with your high school graduation ceremony?

The district has officially canceled all in-person graduation ceremonies across the board. Right now the plan is to hopefully be able to do something in July or August, depending on restrictions. Our graduation ceremony with all students and teachers and parents would end up being about 130 people, which is not safe right now, but it's definitely not unmanageable in the future. But we also don't want to expect that it’s going to happen and get our hopes up. 

For now, we will probably schedule school pickups for diplomas, in which case we will come to school in our caps and gowns. Teachers will stand six feet apart down the walkway to school and we'll pick up our diplomas from a table. Our parents can snap a picture from the car and then we'll get back in.

‘It's Hard When Your Adjustment and Your Friend's Adjustment Don't Line Up’

How have you been keeping in touch with friends?

I’ve been using SnapChat, FaceTime, and House Party, which is a group video chat app. I've talked to some of my friends and they've experienced very similar things where you end up talking to friends you haven't talked to in a really long time but not so much the people that you used to see every single day.

Why is that?

I think it's a matter of routine. I'm used to not having to put in work to see my best friend because I would see her in school every day. But now we're not in any of the same online classes. So it's hard to figure out a system that works for us when we already had one that was rooted in seeing each other. But my friend in Seattle, I'm used to having to schedule a FaceTime call with her when I want to see her. So I've actually been able to talk to her more. I think that a lot of people have been struggling with staying connected while some people have adjusted more easily. It's hard when your adjustment and your friend's adjustment don't line up. 

Emma will be attending Colorado College in the fall on a scholarship and hopes her first semester won’t be online.

What do you miss the most about school?

I feel the most bitter about missing out on senior activities, like prom and graduation and our senior trip. I think one of the hardest things that I'm still dealing with—even though it's been five weeks—is just the fact that I walked out of my high school for the last time without knowing it. That was a moment that you should have been aware of. I just got into my car before spring break and I was like, “I'll see you in a couple of weeks.” I think that has been the hardest part.

What are your plans for the fall?

That's one of the things I had to figure out during quarantine. Luckily I didn't have any college visits scheduled. I know a lot of my other friends are struggling with picking a college without being able to visit.

I was lucky enough to get a scholarship that will pay for my tuition for my number one school. I will be attending Colorado College in the fall for political science—if we have school in the fall. That's another thing I'm really worried about. With the scholarship, I don't have the option to defer. So it's possible that I'm just going to be doing online classes during my first year of college, but, I don't want to be a pessimist about that.

‘I Know Everyone Is Trying To Figure it Out.’

What is helping you get through the next few months?

I think right now it's just a matter of doing school work and then watching Netflix and acknowledging the fact that I don't have the skills to go out into the world and save people’s lives, as much as I want to.

It’s kind of difficult to find ways you can help without feeling unproductive, but also there's not a lot that everyone can do right now besides just doing the responsible thing and staying home. If something is bothering me, I’ve always been the type of person who will just go fix it. And right now there are no clear answers. But I know everyone is trying to figure it out.

More Community Voices

COVID-19: Community Voices” offers a glimpse of life and learning during the coronavirus school closures, in the words of students and parents in the communities we serve. Read other stories in the series:

If you'd like to tell your story or would like to suggest a story for us to cover, please email us. And find resources for educators supporting students through the coronavirus outbreak at Teach For America's educator resource hub.