EducationLocalWilliam J. Ford

High School Seniors Optimistic Amid Coronavirus

Hope Graduation Ceremonies Can Still Happen

With Maryland public schools now closed through April 24, students will miss at least another three weeks of hanging with friends, organizing student council meetings and watching baseball games and other sporting events.

In Prince George’s County, public schools CEO Monica Goldson revised the 2019-20 school calendar to end the third quarter on March 13, the last day schools were open before the state officially closed them due to the coronavirus pandemic.

After talking and hearing concerns about shortening the third quarter to only 34 days, she recommended keeping the original date of Monday, March 30.

The board voted unanimously during an emergency meeting Friday, March 28 to approve the new calendar.

Student board member Joshua Omolola said the change helps students to complete any missing assignments and makeup work by Monday. Also, the complete work after March 13 could improve a student’s grade point average and enhance a high school transcript seen by colleges.

“In speaking with my peers, they understand this is an unprecedented time. Nothing like this has ever happened,” said Omolola, a senior at Parkdale High School in Riverdale. “Dr. Goldson is laying the foundation for something that may happen in another century from now. I appreciate all that she is doing, so thank you.”

High school seniors like Omolola are feeling the effects because their high school careers are slated to end in less than two months. The school board approved for the last day of school for students to be June 9, but seniors usually complete their final exams several weeks earlier.

Goldson recently announced senior proms and graduation ceremonies are postponed. However, she offered hope when she wrote in a March 16 letter ceremonies may happen “later this summer” and the school systems will look into possible venues to reschedule proms.

Four high school seniors – Jesulayomi “James” Dawodu, Sanaya Ross, Temi Osunjimi and Madeleine Brown – discussed how the virus labeled COVID-19 has forced them to complete assignments from home, college preparation and “walking across the stage.”

‘Keep that hope’

Jesulayomi, 18, and Sanaya, 17, are athletes at Largo High School who plan to attend college after graduation.

The coronavirus outbreak forced college officials to cancel in-person visits and campus tours until further notice, which both say hampers their decisions because they remain undecided.

Jesulayomi, who throws shot put on track and field team and plays football, did visit Lycoming and Gettysburg colleges in Pennsylvania and Bowie State University.

“There’s about four or five schools that I haven’t got to visit yet because of the whole corona outbreak and shut down in certain areas,” said Jesulayomi, who wants to continue playing football. “It’s kind of hard to make a decision when you really don’t know how to feel about a certain place because you haven’t been there yet.”

Because Sanaya only toured the University of Maryland Eastern Shore, she’s sending emails and talking to recruiters about prospective campuses to continue track and field collegiately.

Sanaya Ross (Courtesy photo)
Sanaya Ross (Courtesy photo)

“It would be nice to physically go see what I’m working with,” she said.

Besides their athletic prowess, they also participate in school activities and organizations. Jesulayomi serves as a member of Largo’s student council and a group called Peer Buddies. When Sanaya takes off her cleats, she participates as a member of the student government association.

Although they use the FaceTime app on their iPhones to chat with friends, it’s not the same.

Sanaya said some people need an “‘I miss you’ hug, or ‘I love you dearly’ hug, ‘I hope you’re doing great.'”

Jesulayomi concurred.

“I’m a social bird, so I talk to everyone,” he said. “If I’m walking in the hallway and I see somebody, I’m just going to talk to them because, why not? The same people that are down, you don’t know how they’re feeling after school. The school might have been their comfort zone. I would say FaceTiming isn’t really the same as actual dapping up or hugging friends. Face-to-face talks are better than on the phone talks.”

In terms of their academics, both said they can communicate with their teachers via email.

The school system also allows teachers to communicate with students through Google Classroom, a free, web-based service that allows teachers to post and collect assignments. Students can also post their work and ask questions.

They couldn’t predict when the coronavirus outbreak would subside, but they hope it’s sooner than later, especially if the possibility of participating in a graduation ceremony still exists. According to the PGCPS graduation schedule, Largo’s commencement has been scheduled for May 27 at the Show Place Arena in Upper Marlboro.

“For every senior in high school, graduation is their moment,” Sanaya said. “It’s kind of like a ‘congratulations’ doing this for 12 years. To say it could be pushed back is quite a relief knowing all my hard work hasn’t been put down the drain.”

‘It’s been hard’

Roughly 10 miles away at Bowie High School, two seniors also can’t wait for the coronavirus ordeal to diminish.

Madeleine Brown (Courtesy photo)
Madeleine Brown (Courtesy photo)

Madeleine Brown, 18, received word about graduation ceremonies still being a possibility while texting her friends. Bowie’s commencement was scheduled for May 28 at the Xfinity Center at the University of Maryland’s College Park campus.

“We were at least happy that it is happening,” she said. “It was just hard to think about that we worked so hard, so long … just waiting for May 28 to happen.”

Classmate Temi Osunjimi isn’t stressing out about prom.

“I really want to walk across the stage,” Temi said. “That’s what I’ve been working for the last 12 years of my life.”

Both expressed frustration on how the coronavirus affected the final two months of their senior years.

Madeleine headed to Baltimore on March 12 as a member of Bowie’s Future Business Leaders of America for a two-day trip to participate in a statewide conference in which hundreds of students planned to attend.

But Gov. Larry Hogan announced that day that public gatherings of 200 or more people were now prohibited, so Madeleine and other students already in Baltimore had to leave and the rest of the event was canceled.

“My partner and I worked really hard to prepare a graphic design presentation,” Madeleine said. “I worked on that project for months.”

March 13 was the last day Maryland public schools were open.

Like the Largo seniors, Madeleine and Temi can text and FaceTime their friends daily. But they realize not seeing them in person hurts even more.

The school closure meant no more FBLA meetings, art club or National Honor Society events for Madeleine.

Temi Osunjimi (Courtesy photo)
Temi Osunjimi (Courtesy photo)

Temi, who turns 18 on April 7, enjoyed the Bowie Pep Team in the fall for football season, but she will miss lacrosse season and film projects. She’s a member of the school’s Bulldog Bull 10 TV media club and Caring Colors, an LGBTQ safe space organization.

“It’s been hard. I cried a couple of times,” she said of being away from her friends. “Club group chats have been done to check up on everybody. I check up on my friends almost every hour.”

Temi must also keep tabs on her assignments such as two Advanced Placement classes. Her math teacher isn’t connected to Google Classroom for her pre-college algebra class because colleges “will not have Google C
Classroom to tell you to do your assignments. You have to go out and do it.”

She hasn’t decided on a college, but will probably stay within the state to major in education and pursue a minor in visual arts.

Madeleine, who plans to attend George Washington University in Northwest in the fall to study graphic design, has received assignments from nearly all her teachers. Her coursework includes AP psychology, pre-calculus, chemistry and English.

“I need to finish high school strong, even with all this craziness,” she said. “I believe in God and I know that we will all get through this.”

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William J. Ford – Washington Informer Staff Writer

I decided I wanted to become a better writer while attending Bowie State University and figured that writing for the school newspaper would help. I’m not sure how much it helped, but I enjoyed it so much I decided to keep on doing it, which I still thoroughly enjoy 20 years later. If I weren’t a journalist, I would coach youth basketball. Actually, I still play basketball, or at least try to play, once a week. My kryptonite is peanut butter. What makes me happy – seeing my son and two godchildren grow up. On the other hand, a bad call made by an official during a football or basketball game makes me throw up my hands and scream. Favorite foods include pancakes and scrambled eggs which I could eat 24-7. The strangest thing that’s ever happened to me, or more accurately the most painful, was when I was hit by a car on Lancaster Avenue in Philadelphia. If I had the power or money to change the world, I’d make sure everyone had three meals a day. And while I don’t have a motto or favorite quote, I continue to laugh which keeps me from driving myself crazy. You can reach me several ways: Twitter @jabariwill, Instagram will_iam.ford2281 or e-mail, wford@washingtoninformer.com

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