Seniors Return to Campus en Masse For Final Month at GDS

Students socialize on the field. Photos by Kaiden J. Yu.

In-person senior attendance has skyrocketed in seniors’ final month of school, after less than half of their grade attended prior to spring break, which was the lowest percentage of any class. On March 15, High School Principal Katie Gibson announced that seniors would be given the opportunity to participate in in-person learning four days a week starting on April 6, while the rest of the high school would have to wait until May. 

“It hasn’t felt the most safe, if I’m being honest, but it’s definitely been so much fun,” senior Alexa Goldfarb said.“I love seeing everyone. It’s been definitely really different from virtual school.”

According to Gibson, the school decided to invite seniors back before other high school students to let them be together as a grade before their classes end on April 30. “They are about to finish high school,” Gibson said of seniors, “and have missed not only their entire senior year, but a good portion of their junior year.” 

Gibson and Twelfth Grade Dean Anna Howe also announced in an email to seniors and their families on Friday, April 16, that a slew of in-person end-of-year events will take place in the next two months, including prom and graduation. 

The junior and senior prom will be on June 10, at the Maryland Jockey Club in Laurel, Maryland, and graduation will take place on June 13 on the GDS high school field. Other scheduled events include a “Senior Walk” around campus, and a “parade-like” senior sendoff. 

GDS will have the same COVID-safety requirements for these events as for school. “In many cases, we are planning for things that aren’t yet technically allowed,” Gibson told the Bit on April 9. “We’re planning for them, hoping that in another two months they will be allowed to happen.”

According to statistics provided to the Bit by the high school administration, 54 seniors were attending in-person school prior to April 3, and another 58 have since decided to return. There are currently 18 seniors who are still participating in fully online learning. 

Senior Justice Shelton, who decided to remain virtual, said, “It’s a bit more convenient for me right now logistically.” He added that he is receiving his second COVID-19 vaccine dose on April 23, which would make him “feel a little more comfortable” returning to school later on in the month.

Seniors seem to be delighted to be back on campus. “It’s been really nice to sort of see people and get to know my teachers better because I hadn’t met a lot of them before,” senior Lena Levey said.

Senior Isa Cymrot, meanwhile, had been coming to school on campus twice a week since before Thanksgiving break. “That really felt like a prison, and this feels better,” she said. “It’s starting to feel more like regular school.”

With students not having seen most of their classmates in over a year, some are still adjusting to the transition.“It’s very different,” senior Mateo Brown said. “It kind of feels like I’m still talking to people virtually but just in person, if that makes any sense, because you still can’t get too close to people or anything like that. Socializing is just very different.”

Despite the excitement, some seniors said that COVID guidelines are not strictly followed. Seniors interviewed had mixed opinions on if people not following guidelines poses a danger to themselves and the community, with some community members witnessing students not socially distancing or properly wearing masks. 

“It seems like the COVID restrictions are maybe a little more lax than I would think initially, but it also doesn’t seem like anyone’s getting infected, so I’m not too worried unless something happens,” senior Matthew Mason said. 

“People definitely are not COVID safe,” senior Kara Neal said. “So I’m a little scared that it [GDS] might be shut down again.” 

In contrast, both Gibson and Howe believe that the COVID guidelines are generally followed by the students. Gibson said the school is “really trying to balance wanting to make sure we are keeping people safe, and also wanting to allow GDS to feel a little bit more like GDS.” However, she noted that reminders are given in the Forum and recognized that outside, where the virus is less likely to spread, distancing has been harder to enforce.

Howe said, “Students have followed safety protocols way more stringently and way more responsibly than I would have expected.” 

As GDS attempts to offer an entirely in-person schedule, Gibson said that having the seniors come back is an “opportunity to learn what it’s going to mean to get three grades back on campus in a few more weeks.” The school is using seniors’ return to determine what resources, such as picnic tables and classroom space, will be needed then.

“Quite frankly,” Gibson said, “we’re using that to then learn and figure out: What is it going to be like to have everybody on campus next year?”

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