Pandemic complicates high school senior plans

Brandon Paykamian • Mar 29, 2020 at 8:00 AM

Things aren’t going quite as planned for some seniors at Science Hill High School, with local schools closed during the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

Classes have been moved online, and all activities have been canceled until April 27. Officials have canceled and postponed several public school-sponsored events and now plan to reschedule prom, which was originally set for May 2.

“We can't reschedule the prom until we have certainty that large groups can gather safely,” Director of Instruction and Communications Debra Bentley said Thursday.

Aliyanna Hill, an 18-year-old senior at Science Hill, said she’s worried milestone events in students’ lives could be canceled if the pandemic continues to intensify in the coming weeks. 

“Me and my friends decided not to go to junior prom because we were looking forward to our senior prom, and now we might not even get that opportunity,” Hill said.

Science Hill’s graduation ceremony is still set for May 23, but Hill said her family is afraid that could also change if the current public health crisis continues to affect public school schedules. 

“I have heard there’s a possibility it could be, depending on how long and how fast they get this pandemic over with,” Hill said, adding that it would be “devastating” if the ceremony was canceled.

“That’s something you always look forward to growing up.”

Despite her concerns, Hill said Science Hill’s school counselors have still been helpful throughout her college application process. 

But closures at higher education institutions across the country have disrupted her plans to visit the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, University of Memphis and others before making a final decision on where to go to college.

“I haven’t been able to go on my final college tours where I can decide where I want to go, so I kind of have to make my decision blindly now since the decision date is May 1, and many tours are canceled until the summer,” Hill said. 

School Counselor Joshua Jarnigan said Science Hill’s counseling department has been doing everything they can to help meet the needs of students like Hill remotely, despite the disruptions caused by the pandemic. 

Counselors are still working to facilitate the college application process by staying in communication with higher education institutions and students. The department has also worked to meet mental health needs for students remotely with the help of Frontier Health and Lucas Hitechew, a part-time counselor from the Niswonger Foundation.

“Colleges and Science Hill counselors are staying in touch and working collectively during this time,” Jarnigan said Thursday. “Just yesterday, East Tennessee State University provided counselors a list of students that were still missing documents to complete student admission applications.” 

Johnson City Schools officials are uncertain whether schools will remain closed after April 27.

Though classes and day-to-day operations have been disrupted at ETSU until the end of the semester, Vice President for Student Life and Enrollment Joe Sherlin said the application process is continuing as scheduled.

“Though we are working in remote environments, our recruitment efforts remain very active,” he said, adding that admissions staff is staying in communication with prospective students.

“A key message that we are sharing with all of our students, as well as those who plan to arrive in the fall, is to submit the FAFSA as soon as possible. The priority deadline is April 15.” 

All upcoming ETSU admissions events are canceled until the end of the semester, but prospective students can view admissions presentations and take virtual campus tours at www.etsu.edu

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