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Celebrating Seniors During Coronavirus

Mitigating the Loss of Special Events

It wasn’t too long ago the senior class of 2020 was anticipating spring semester, that hard-earned pinnacle as the Top Dogs, Kings of the Hill. As such, they would enjoy special privileges: senior retreat, prom, MR. OCHS, athletic senior nights, senior lounges, and their last sports season as Lions.

Instead, along with thousands of students nationwide, they are sheltering in place during the COVID-19 pandemic, taking classes remotely, and on Google Hangout instead of actually hanging out with their friends. They are mourning the abrupt end of their 12-year academic journey and feeling a sense of loss and displacement. This senior class in particular has lived through the tragic Borderline shooting, the devastating Woolsey fire, and now a global pandemic.

Those year-end activities aren’t just things to do: they are transition touch points that help them commemorate their high school years while anticipating college life and post-high school experiences.

“I have heard such good things about retreat and how united the class becomes after that. Also, the prom, and how super fun that is,” said Conner Kershaw. “You look forward to the memories you were going to create that you can tell you kids about, like my parents have told me about their high school days. I feel ripped off because we have been looking forward to this for since middle school. It’s nobody fault, but it pretty unfortunate.”

This would have also been Kershaw’s third year on varsity baseball, and like the other student-athletes he is missing his final season. He heads to Loyola Marymount this fall to pitch, but the way his high school career ended was tough.

“We played about seven or eight non-league games before the shut down, but we had no idea the last one we played was going to be it. It is such a bummer that we didn’t get to play our season against our normal rivals, Thousand Oaks, Westlake, Newbury Park, and see our potential as a team realized.”

Maggie Bradley is on yearbook staff and reflected: "We thought we had a clear view of how it would all end and the satisfying closure we would experience as we had anticipated without any reason to ever think it would not happen. But then, in what feels like an instant, it was completely stripped from us."

Knowing that seniors were feeling this way, Oaks Christian (and many schools nationwide) has proactively taken steps to help them come to terms with the new reality, and far as possible, mitigate the loss of those unique events.

On the morning of April 15, seniors woke up to a special surprise. Faculty and staff personally delivered lawn signs to each senior’s home to celebrate them. The parents were notified by email this was happening and they all kept the secret!

A senior parent shared the idea with High School Activities Director Chanel Chi, and along with Dean Marcus Choi, she ran with it. The pair had the signs printed and solicited volunteers to help deliver.

“I sent out the email and got about 60 responses from Oaks staff that wanted to help.This was super encouraging!” said Chi. "There were some advisors and counselors that wanted to personally deliver to their kids so I thought it would be more meaningful to choose the high school teachers, advisors, and counselors to deliver. In the end we ended up with 30 volunteers delivering to 5-15 homes each.”

Chi describe the students as being “shocked, happy and grateful” when they opened their doors. OCS senior parent Leslie Matthews said her son, Joe, was touched more by the fact the teachers went out of their way, the effort and human contact, than the signs themselves.

“The lawn signs were so great! My advisor (English teacher Christie Goeser) was at the door singing to me! It made my mom cry! It was so great to see a familiar face from Oaks,” said Skylar Maio, senior class president.

“Our hope was to lift the spirits of our seniors from these deliveries by showing them that we care for them, we are thinking about them, and praying for them,” Chi shared. “This is a tough time for the entire Oaks community, but we know that the seniors were especially looking forward to these last two months that were packed with events to celebrate them.”

College Decision Day on May 1 was another opportunity to celebrate seniors. Instead of the high-energy tailgate party in the parking lot when seniors decorate their cars with banners, logos and colors of the college they are attending, the counseling department organized a virtual college decision day. Students decorated a door in their home and took photos or videos for social media.

“We all wish we could have had the tailgate. We were so excited last year as juniors for this, so it wasn’t the same. But it is so cool they organized this and made us feel appreciated. The school could have so easily said, ‘Forget it. Too much work.’ But they did not and created this alternative for us,” Maio said.

As senior class president, she works closely with Chi creating events and brainstorming ways to keep the seniors encouraged and connected.  “Honesty, I am more bummed out for my class than myself because I feel so sad for everyone and keep thinking of them.”

Parents are grateful the school is taking proactive steps to keep the senior’s spirits up, but the big events, like the prom, and Mr. OCHS (which is on May 6 on the student portal AXIS) are just hard to replace.

“The seniors are dealing with it relative well, but not having prom this past Saturday was tough. It was a reality check. They feel like they have no control over this,” said Brandy Lazar, who, along with Kristin Biegert, serves as a co-Senior Lead Parent for the 20-person Class Parent Volunteer Leadership Team.

Even though there was no actual prom, one thing her son, Sawyer did, was create a virtual prom ask by baking cookies and sharing them with his intended prom date over the computer.

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Lazar shared that senior parents, particularly the moms, are also feeling sad as these were the events they wanted to help plan and celebrate with their students.

To help keep them connect, the leadership team is meeting regularly via Zoom for prayer for each senior, led by Dana Rouse. Any senior parent, not just the leadership team, is welcome to join.

Both Lazar and Maio acknowledge the loss of senior events pales to the economic and health struggles other have due to COVID-19.

At the start of the pandemic, in mid-March and throughout April, the class was feeling it wasn’t fair and focusing on what they had lost, but Maio feels they have pivoted.

“It is true we were sad, but now, at this point, we are accepting it is something so out of our control. There are bigger worries that people are dealing with right now so that gives us perspective,” she shared.

With College Decision Day come and gone, and the school year quickly winding down, seniors are turning their eyes toward the future and life after high school. Maio is hoping the way their senior year ended will result in some positive outcomes.

“Honestly, I don’t know how many times I have taken for granted hanging out with friends. I am so over social media! It’s the only platform we have right now, and it almost all we have to do. It is getting draining to be connected this way! I hope that with life after quarantine we realize we don’t need our technology so much. I hope one benefit is we will actually cherish our times together and being connected one-on-one,” she said.