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Graduating seniors reflect on starting high school as the COVID-19 pandemic began


High school graduation may be an annual ritual, but this year's graduating class is like no other. They are the kids who started high school when COVID hit. The pandemic shaped their education and lives in profound and unexpected ways. Colorado Public Radio's Jenny Brundin talked to graduates about what they learned about themselves.

JENNY BRUNDIN, BYLINE: Imagine starting high school. No tour. No assembly. No meeting new friends.

MEGAN MART-KIRVEN: I started high school on my couch in my basement.

BRUNDIN: That's how it was for Megan Mart-Kirven and thousands in the class of 2024.

MART-KIRVEN: It was really lonely.

BRUNDIN: During COVID, Mart-Kirven’s family was at high risk for infection. That jacked up her anxiety even more, and she didn't connect with her peers.

MART-KIRVEN: And the only way I was connecting with people was by playing Minecraft with, like, a friend from California.

BRUNDIN: There were other challenges. Jared Macias came to the U.S. from Mexico in eighth grade, where he hoped to learn English. And then bam - he's online for ninth grade.

JARED MACIAS: It was harder to learn it in my house, so, like, it makes my high school experience even harder.

BRUNDIN: Learning online was not popular. Mart-Kirven says no cool biology labs, just a book and a screen with black boxes. She took a 3D design class.

MART-KIRVEN: We basically just got a bag of clay and took it home and had to do our assignments that way. Honestly, not my favorite art class.

JAMISON WHITEFORD: Now that I'm thinking about it, I was 15 my freshman year, and I was confused. I didn't know what was going on.

BRUNDIN: Jamison Whiteford was learning online in the room next door to his father, Justin Whiteford, who was teaching the class Jamison was in.

JUSTIN WHITEFORD: He's in the class, and he's in the next room from you. And so you're thinking, this is sort of surreal.

BRUNDIN: Even schools like Jared’s that had a rule to show your face online...

MACIAS: Nobody would, like, follow those directions 'cause like...

BRUNDIN: Other kids in rural areas were back in person pretty quick. But Amanda Kubitz felt the pandemic in other areas. Dance was the first casualty.

AMANDA KUBITZ: We couldn't do recitals. We couldn't do competitions.

BRUNDIN: Then there were the masks for basketball and volleyball.

KUBITZ: Oh, it was rough. It was so rough. Playing sports with masks on was crazy and kind of awful.

BRUNDIN: After months on end out of school, going back...

OHVION CURLEY: It was like, woah. It was kind of nerve-wracking.

BRUNDIN: But Ohvion Curley and other kids say it was better.

CURLEY: Be with your friends and laugh, and, like, you're together. It kind of just feels more genuine and, like, more happy.

UNIDENTIFIED STUDENT: I didn't realize how good school was.

BRUNDIN: But sophomore year for others was still overwhelming.

MACIAS: I was feeling scared 'cause I didn't expect, like, that kind of work.

BRUNDIN: But they all pushed through. The students seem amazed at where they were four years ago compared to now.

CURLEY: Just seeing how I am, like, socially now and, like, being able to speak out more, it, like, makes me proud.

BRUNDIN: Megan Mart-Kirven, the one so isolated in her basement, joined the drama club, something...

MART-KIRVEN: I was too scared to do for a while. And I've made some really good friends.

BRUNDIN: COVID brought Jamison Whiteford and his teacher father Justin, working and learning in rooms next to each other, closer.

JAMISON WHITEFORD: That's what COVID did, but I'm so glad I did it with my dad. And he's been great to me.

JUSTIN WHITEFORD: Love you, son.

JAMISON WHITEFORD: I love you, dad. Aw.



BRUNDIN: We'll give the final word to Jamison's dad, a teacher.

JUSTIN WHITEFORD: You see them notice now there's brighter days. You can see it in this class. Like, they got that grit. They weathered this, and they learned resilience.

BRUNDIN: For NPR News, I'm Jenny Brundin.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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