During this time of year, high school seniors usually prepare for milestones such as senior field trips, proms, graduation ceremonies and even a harmless prank or two.
Instead, the ongoing coronavirus pandemic forced Prince George’s County public school students to remain home and conduct remote learning for nearly a year.
The majority-Black jurisdiction leads the state of Maryland with the highest number of confirmed coronavirus cases, almost 70,000.
But COVID-19 vaccines have presented hope for students to come back to the buildings for some form of in-person instruction this year.
The school system began its vaccination rollout the weekend of Jan. 31 for about 1,500 of the nearly 22,000 Prince George’s teachers, administrators and other staff. Support staff and other employees can receive vaccines at the Kaiser Permanente Lanham Rehabilitation Center, but how many have received them remain unclear.
Before Maryland Superintendent Karen Salmon and a few other school employees received COVID-19 vaccines last month in Annapolis, Gov. Larry Hogan injected his voice requesting local school officials to bring students back in the buildings by March 1.
It’s doubtful the Prince George’s school board will make a decision on that topic when it meets Thursday, Feb. 11.
Members of the class of 2021, such as Asia Gray and Khalil Williams, wouldn’t be in the buildings too long.
According to the school calendar, graduation ceremonies are scheduled beginning May 21 and the last day of school is June 18.
Both students said they would like to return for the final few months and see friends and their teachers, but safety remains a higher priority.
“I don’t think it’s safe,” said Gray, 17, who attends Charles H. Flowers High School in Springdale. “In an ideal world, I would love to come back to my school. I really love my school.”
“A part of me wants to go just to see everyone once again, but the logic side of me knows that it would be completely dangerous because it’s still a pandemic,” said Williams, who turned 18 on Saturday, Feb. 6 and attends Potomac High School in Oxon Hill. “I’m mostly opposed to it, but I won’t be completely upset if [school officials] do implement that. I would just try to be as careful as possible.”
Although the first day of school was Aug. 31, Gray and Williams have gained virtual learning experience since school buildings closed on March 16, 2020.
Besides typing, reading and watching educational videos on their laptops, they reflected on their senior year and advice for underclassmen.
Activities: Captain of the debate team, student member of the board of education’s advisory council, president of Math National Honor Society
Future plans: Attend college to major in biomedical engineering. A few schools she’s been accepted to include University of Maryland in College Park, Howard University, Georgia Tech Institute of Technology and North Carolina A&T.
It’s nothing like in-person learning. I haven’t gotten used to [virtual learning]. It’s really hard. My mom sees I’ve become more engaged with my school and learning since the pandemic. One thing I learned about myself is that if I really want to do something, to just go out there and do it. Sometimes I got nervous to really take charge and lead. During the pandemic, I really just started taking charge and really enjoyed doing it. I was always scared to be co-captain of the debate team, although I’ve been on it since ninth grade year. When captain came up [for the debate team], I was like, ‘I don’t want to take it.’ They were like, ‘Girl, just take it. You’ve been on the team for so long.’ I was able to lead the team. I think someone won first place in our last tournament. I was really happy about that. I would tell [underclassmen] to stay locked in. It is very easy to get distracted and not want to do anything. I would tell them to keep pushing and be strong. If you get distracted and you don’t put in as much effort as you can in your underclassmen years, it’s going to affect you in your upperclassmen years. Try your best to stay locked in and focus on your work and try to make the best out of it. It’s way harder than it seems. Take it step by step.
Activities: National Honor Society, band, poetry club and helps with his stepmother’s business called “Nature’s Little Secret.”
Future plans: Will take online courses at a music school called “Beat Lab Academy.” In-person schooling based in Los Angeles. Seeks to become a disc jockey and music producer.
The [school] year overall has been mostly good for me. Seeing my teachers…in these little boxes on Zoom is just weird. I like the comfort of it. I like being in bed for the same classes. I wake up, brush my teeth, wash my face and get back into bed and bring out my journals and whatever I need get and just go to class. A lot of people have been struggling to transition [from in-person to virtual learning]. There are some people who are just like, ‘I’m at home Why do I need to do anything?’ I know what I have to do so I can do that first so I can do whatever I want to do later. I don’t want to spend all day working on an assignment [and] last minute scrambling to finish something. I can just finish it and then do whatever I want for the rest of my free time. My advice to [future Class of 2022], I know it is hard. I know there are times where you want to say, ‘Ok, I’m not doing this anymore.’ Keep pushing yourself to do your best. When you do the best, you generate results. It may not come instantly, but trust me, the results you get from trying your best is beyond words. Just try your best for whatever you want to do. Don’t stress too much. Don’t put too much pressure on yourself. Just relax, do your best and always work to improve yourself.