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Prom? Canceled. Graduation? Online. High Schoolers Share Their Worlds With Us

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Four students from different parts of the San Francisco Bay Area shared their experiences of the Spring of 2020 when coronavirus closed down their schools. (Kelly Heigert/KQED)

When the coronavirus pandemic forced schools across the country to close it was a shock. Teachers and kids weren’t prepared. Many thought it would be a longer than normal spring break. It wasn’t. In the San Francisco Bay Area, schools stayed closed for the rest of the academic year.

This is a historic moment, and there’s been a lot of coverage about how it has affected parents, teachers and schools. But teens are only in high school once, and students are missing out on a lot right now. We wanted to honor that.

For the past several months, four teenagers from around the Bay Area have been recording audio diaries about their experience of life sheltering in place. These are their stories.

Taila Lee

High school senior Taila Lee holds her prom dress at her home in San Carlos on April 4, 2020.
High school senior Taila Lee holds the prom dress she never got to wear at her home in San Carlos on April 4, 2020.

“I’m Taila Lee. I’m a senior at Woodside High School. I’m still taking a lot of time to adjust to online learning. This is only day 3 and I already feel a little bit behind. I think I’m really missing the structure of the school day. I’m also really missing face-to-face instruction and that social interaction with teachers and classmates.”

“It’s Tuesday, March 31 and just about two hours ago I found out I’m not going back to school. We’re continuing online learning for the rest of the year, until June. And that means March 13 was the last day of my senior year. And I’m really sad. I’m not going to be able to go prom. I’m not going to sign yearbooks with my friends. I’m not going to hug people goodbye at graduation, take photos. My first semester of college might even be online, which is really crazy to think about.”

Taila Lee stands in her front yard.
Taila Lee, a senior at Woodside High School, at her home. (Beth LaBerge/KQED)

“I committed to UC Berkeley two days ago. I always imagined pressing the accept button one night and then the next day at school, I’d be able to tell my friends and teachers in person. It was this big, exciting moment I had always pictured.”


“It’s Friday, June 5th and today I graduated high school from my couch. They showed graduation slides with the graduate’s name, photo and message and I got pretty excited when I finally saw my slide after probably 200 other slides. But my heart kind of dropped when the announcer pronounced my name wrong. You know, it’s graduation, it’s already disappointing enough that we’re having a virtual graduation, instead of an in person one. So for my name to be pronounced wrong, in addition to having my entire high school experience summed up by a five second grad slide, it was super disappointing. I just don’t really feel like I’ve graduated.”

“However, I did feel better after picking up my diploma in person. After the diploma pick up station, we drove through a line of teachers waving and cheering and that was really amazing.”

Qadir Scott

Qadir Scott, a senior at Oakland Technical High school, leans on his skateboard.
Qadir Scott, a senior at Oakland Tech. (Beth LaBerge/KQED)

“This is Qadir Scott. I’m a senior at Oakland Tech. A big thing with me, I listen to this band called Bad Brains. Something they talk about is keeping that PMA. That’s positive mind and attitude. PMA. Control everything that you can control, you know. Everything else will kind of play out, but if you keep that positive attitude and mindset, you can achieve anything. That’s exactly how I’m thinking about it right now. Make the best out of it. The way I see it is like, class of 2020, the corona class, COVID-19. We’re part of a bigger moment in history.”

“I’m going to Morehouse [College] in the fall. I’m excited about that. But we’re going to do online school, I’m pretty sure, for the first month or two. I don’t really know how to feel about that. It kinda sucks because you kinda want to just jump right into your college experience. But it might make it easier, who knows. I’m kinda just playing it by ear, again trying to keep a positive mind attitude.”

Qadir Scott, a senior at Oakland Tech, in Alameda on April 6, 2020.
Qadir’s mantra “positive, mind, attitude” has helped him stay positive during shelter-in-place. He also tries to get out and skateboard when he can.

“It’s Saturday, June 6th. A lot’s been going on. Following the death of George Floyd, there’s been a lot of civil unrest, a lot of protests. I’ve protested a few times. I’m glad to see so many people unified. Friends, family, anybody, everybody, all races, all genders. Everybody is out here. Pandemic going on, people getting shot and killed left and right. Even at these protests, like people peacefully protesting are getting harmed by the police. Growing up in an activist household, my mom and my grandma and the people I was surrounded by, I’ve been kinda educated on the topic and understanding how systematic oppression works.

You know, it’s crazy, honestly, it’s about time. Do I think this is the super big change where racism just doesn’t exist anymore? Nah. But it’s definitely a step in the right direction.”

Julisa Gomez Reyes

Julisa Gomez Reyes, a high school junior, at her home in San Jose on April 6.
Julisa Gomez Reyes, a high school junior, at her home in San Jose on April 6, 2020.

“My name is Julisa Gomez Reyes. I’m a junior at Independence High School in San Jose. I miss school. I miss my friends. I miss my teachers. I miss the classroom. And this is something that I never thought I would be saying.”

“My sleep schedule is really bad right now. The nights are where I’m awake and during the day I’m asleep. And I’m trying to fix that, especially with my family, we’re all doing it. My mom’s out of a job and we just don’t want to do anything because, I don’t know, we can’t go out and we’re usually a quiet family so it’s very difficult to get anything done.”

Julisa Gomez Reyes, a high school junior, stuides in her backyard.
Julisa misses school, her friends, and volunteering with a local education non-profit. She says it’s hard to stay motivated when she’s at home all the time. (Beth LaBerge/KQED)

“Me and my little sister have been heavily affected by [my parents] fighting. It has made us struggle with anxiety, which is something that I don’t think they see in it.”

“Every time they fight, I treat them like children because that’s what it seems like. I’m the only one acting like an adult. I just want all of this to end. And it’s harder to do in this pandemic because we’re at home with each other 24/7. Without this pandemic, I could be going to school, and getting my mind off it for a while.”

“My AP experience wasn’t really good. For my first exam it was right after my parents’ fight and I was distracted because they were in the same room together. It really made me uncomfortable and I couldn’t focus. For my second AP exam, my laptop stopped working. For some reason, my laptop does this thing where it automatically disconnects from the internet, so I couldn’t move on to the second question.

This year hasn’t been a good year for me.”

Genevieve Schweitzer

Genevieve Schweitzer, a junior in high school, plays the flute in her backyard on April 6, 2020.
Genevieve Schweitzer, a junior in high school, plays the flute in her backyard on April 6, 2020.

“My name is Genevieve Schweitzer. I’m a junior at El Cerrito High School and I’m doing fine. I just miss my friends and doing normal things. It’s Day eight. I’m sitting on my bed, basically in the position I’ve been in all day. I’m just thinking about all the things that have been canceled. Like concerts and trips to Disneyland with my band that we were planning, and prom. I already have my prom dress and it’s just hanging in my closet looking sad. But there’s definitely worse things going on right now so I don’t feel like I can complain too much.”

“I just got back from the school. They opened it for one afternoon so we could come get our stuff from our lockers and check out textbooks and things like that. There was a security guard sitting out front with hand sanitizer and wipes and you had to tell them where you were going and why. I didn’t expect it to feel so sad to see the school so empty and to be back. I already had my last day as a junior in high school. And when I come back, I’m going to be a senior.”

Genevieve Schweitzer and her sister, Julia, study in their backyard.
Genevieve Schweitzer (right), a junior in high school, and her sister, Julia (left), study Spanish in their backyard. (Beth LaBerge/KQED)

“So it is Monday, April 27. And that means that it’s the start of my seventh week in self isolation. Thinking back, I started all this feeling almost excited, like it was an adventure. I was kind of curious to see how distance learning would work. I don’t think I understood how dangerous the coronavirus really was. But then time went on, and like more and more restrictions were put on us. And the length kept getting extended. And soon we were out of school until summer. And we were hearing all these scary stories about the virus destroying communities. And now I would say it’s a lot more real. And I also feel like I’ve lost my motivation compared to the beginning of all this. I sleep in more and I go to bed later. I procrastinate on some of my work, and I feel like I spend less time outside and more time in my room.”

“It’s Monday, May 11th, and that means that AP tests are starting this week. My first one is tomorrow and I’m feeling a little nervous. I think I would feel like ten times more confident if it was just the regular format of the test. There’s so much unknown and a lot that could go wrong with the uploading process.”


Read and listen to more student perspectives as part of KQED’s Youth Takeover 2020.

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