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‘Left in the dark:’ High school seniors talk online learning, stress, and yes – prom

Kyle S. Mackie/WBFO News

What’s it like to have your last year of high school interrupted by a global pandemic? WBFO’s education reporter Kyle Mackie asked, and five Buffalo seniors said they’re feeling somewhere between stressed out and sad.

Natishka Correa, a 17-year-old senior at Buffalo’s P.S. #301 Burgard High School, is something of a people person.

“I had a lot planned for senior year. I was, like, the person who planned everything for senior year,” Correa said. “I’ve been planning for prom since September.”

Correa is planning to study psychology at Medaille College after graduation. But she didn’t plan on spending at least two months of her senior year cooped up at home.

“I miss school because school wasn’t as stressful as the house,” Correa said with a laugh. “I underestimated it.”

And Correa’s not alone in struggling with the sudden switch to online learning necessitated in school districts across the country because of the coronavirus pandemic.

“It’s a lot harder [than regular school] because we’ll see an assignment and we’ll try it and then, it’s like, you message your teacher and if they get back to you they get back to you, if they can’t, they can’t,” said Jazmin Martin, 17, a senior at P.S. #156 Frederick Law Olmsted. “It’s harder than we expected—especially considering, like, we’re in high school, we’re always wishing that we don’t have school. So, now that we actually don’t have school, it’s not what we wanted.”

Credit Kyle S. Mackie/WBFO News
Jazmin Martin speaks to WBFO in a Zoom video call.

Nakosi Lott, 18, another senior at Burgard, said the new style of teaching is more like college than high school, with a syllabus and due dates but minimal instruction.

“It could be like a week or something where we hear, like, this instruction or that instruction,” Lott said, “it’s not like day to day how we usually have it in school.”

Of course, this is also a difficult time for teachers—many of whom are currently taking care of their own children at home. But some of the five seniors WBFO spoke to said they think it’s unfair they’re getting more work now than usual. All of them said they’ve only gotten face-to-face video time with one or two teachers thus far in the now six-week-long school building closure.

“The only video instruction I’ve gotten was from my math teacher. [For] any other subject, we didn’t really get video instructions,” said Correa.

Credit Courtesy of Nakosi Lott
Nakosi Lott is a senior at Burgard High School.

Similarly, Lott said his occupational mathematics teacher is the only one of his instructors who “did the Zoom thing for us.”

Martin said there are plenty of discussion boards on Schoology, the online learning software used by Buffalo Public Schools, and that some of her teachers have offered exam prep via the video conferencing platform Lifesize. However, “as for the interactions, there’s not a lot.”

Concerns about grading are also magnifying the seniors’ stress.

All of the work that’s been given to us throughout this whole ‘break,’ so to say, we haven’t been getting graded for it,” Martin said, “so, a lot of people have given up on doing work.”

Lott interpreted a different policy from Burgard. “Our principal just said that if we passed our first, our second and our third quarter, we automatically graduate, for all seniors,” he said.

“I know I gave in my work, and some of the teachers were like, ‘Okay, you’ll get extra credit for that,’” Correa said, “but, like, most of them don’t know how they’re supposed to grade it.”

Credit Kyle S. Mackie/WBFO News
BPS Superintendent Kriner Cash speaks to members of the Buffalo Board of Education during a virtual school board meeting on April 8.

During the last school board meeting on April 8, Buffalo Public Schools Superintendent Kriner Cash said his team was working on a thoughtful grading policy for the rest of the year, but there hasn’t been a public update on that yet. Asked for further information by WBFO, the district spokesperson, Elena Cala, said Thursday the grading system is now in place and will be rolled out on Monday. Earlier this month, the district said teachers would continue to collect assignments and provide “meaningful feedback” while keeping in mind the stress that students and families are feeling at home.

However, one thing is clear: June Regents exams are canceled, and that could help some seniors out.

“I like to say it's a gift that keeps on giving because really, truly, I would say that it would have been really tough for some of these kids,” said Mary Ross, a school counselor who works with the seniors at Burgard. Ross said the test cancelations will allow the school to graduate far more seniors this year—even close to 100%—as long as they can pass their required courses.

“I have students, amazing students, that are from our ENL [English as a New Language] population, our refugees, that have taken biology Regents seven, eight times, and they cannot pass it,” Ross said, “and these kids are kids that come to school every single day and they work so hard, so this is a gift to them.”

Ross added that it’s also a boost for students who’ve missed a lot of school or weren’t on track to graduate because of one specific class because they can use this time at home to catch up. Still, seniors like Martin want a final answer about whether or not there’s hope for things like Class Day, prom and even a graduation ceremony this year.

Credit Courtesy of Danya Flood
Danya Flood is a senior at Research Lab for Bioinformatics and Life Sciences, one of Buffalo Public Schools' new innovative high schools.

“It’s very hard, especially since people don’t have answers so they can’t give us answers,” Martin said. “It kind of feels like we’re left in the dark.”

But even with all the uncertainty, seniors are finding some ways to cope. Lott, from Burgard, said he finds an escape in listening to music.

“I try not to really think about it,” he said. “I try to keep busy and keep positive and just keep pushing forward.”

And Danya Flood, 18, a senior at P.S. #366 Research Lab for Bioinformatics and Life Sciences, said she and her friends check in regularly through the social media platform Snapchat. “We check in and make sure everybody’s doing okay and we say hi to each other,” she said.

Flood will be starting the pre-med track at Daemen College this fall, and while she said she’s sad about the potential cancelation of special senior activities, she’s more concerned about public health.

“I always dreamed of having memories of going to prom with my friends,” she said, “but at the end of the day, I’m more worried about peoples’ safety and I want to make sure that I’m safe and all of my friends are safe so that we can get through this.”

“Senior year is what we make of it. I know we have been handed, like, a bad basket of lemons or whatever, but I just remember the times that we had before the quarantine and look forward to the times after the fact.”

Stay tuned on WBFO for Part II of education reporter Kyle Mackie's conversations with high school seniors coming soon.

Kyle Mackie is a multimedia journalist with reporting experience in Israel and the Palestinian territories, the Western Balkans and New York City. She joined WBFO to cover education and more in June 2019.
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