High Schoolers Embrace New Prospects in Post-Pandemic Era

Adelle Johnson | sophomore – Arundel High School, Gambrills, MD | Winter/Spring 2021

Elizabeth Seton High School senior Jazmyn Gaines-Burns, 17, smiles in front of her computer while doing online school

As the COVID-19 vaccine rollout continues to progress in the United States and the return of some sort of normalcy seems nearer every day, high school students are reflecting on their academic experiences in the past year, and their anticipations for the future.

Arundel High School senior Ryan O’Connor was on vacation when her school announced last March there would be a two-week break because of the threat of the novel coronavirus.

“I just thought, ‘Yay! Two more weeks of vacation!’ … Little did I know,” said O’Connor, 18. “One full school year later, I’m still at home. So at first, I never would’ve thought what happened would happen. I would say I was just confused. I had never experienced something like this, nor had
many around me.”

Some local high school students, like O’Connor, have mixed feelings about returning to school.  Some are apprehensive about going back to school in person, whether that is because they preferred virtual learning, or are worried about contracting COVID-19. Others are excited to get
the chance to return.

Students in 22 out of Maryland’s 24 local school systems are beginning to return to school, whether in-person or using a hybrid model, but the majority of the school year has been virtual.

Arundel High School senior Ryan O’Connor, 18, plans to attend the University of Delaware in the fall. On the left, she smiles on her first day of kindergarten; on the right her first day of senior year.

High school seniors, in particular, have especially strong feelings about returning to school. Not only did students in the class of 2021 have the last part of their junior year snatched from them, but they also had to spend their senior year in thick waters of uncertainty, disappointment, and loss.

Tyler Boden, 18, is a senior at Arundel High School. After going through the abrupt changes at the end of his junior year because of the onset of the pandemic, he felt he was better prepared for what to expect of his senior year. However, the COVID-19 pandemic has not been anything if not dynamic and unpredictable, and the circumstances he has experienced academically this
year reflect that.

“I knew we were going to be virtual for my senior [year], but I thought we’d be out of this by around Christmas,” Boden said. “I’ve come to terms with the education aspect of my senior year but not the social aspect. Nobody could’ve prepared us for this.”

Arundel High School senior Tyler Boden, 18, carries his Arundel golf equipment.

Students in the class of 2021 also missed out on a lot of typical senior year milestones, including their last prom, homecoming, spirit week, and high school football season.

As Sahara Portlance, who also attends Arundel High School, explained, this school year was supposed to be seniors’ first taste of more freedom. Instead, it ended up being more confined than ever.

“I’m pretty upset about missing out on my senior year activities,’’ said Portlance, 17. “I have pretty strict parents so my senior year was supposed to be the year I would be able to go to all the school events and stay out late with friends, but now I’m not able to do that.”

Senior Jazmyn Gaines-Burns is also disappointed. She said she missed out on the last winter dances, having the senior privilege of being dismissed first, and getting to enjoy the senior lounge. “It sucks that I never got to experience it,” she said.

However, the 17-year-old from Elizabeth Seton High School said, in some ways, she feels the fact that she knew what she was going into her senior year was helpful.

“There’s also the factor of, you can’t miss what you don’t know. I’ve always heard about all of these senior perks, but I never knew it,” Gaines-Burns said. “Last year’s seniors didn’t have a prom, and we are having a prom. They didn’t even get to go back to school, like they thought they were leaving for two weeks and they never came back. And so I feel like the class of ‘21,
my class, definitely had an advantage. We at least get to have the choice to come back to school, have prom.”

Elizabeth Seton High School senior Jazmyn Gaines-Burns, 17, smiles in front of her computer while attending class virtually.

Gaines-Burns said going to college in the fall will benefit her socially. “I have become very antisocial over the pandemic. So I think getting back out there… I can see myself maybe just opening up a little bit more, stepping out of my comfort zone,” she said.

Other students also found a bright side in their pandemic experience.

“Pre-COVID I was someone who was always on the go and trying to do too much,’’ said Boden, an Arundel High senior. “I really learned how to relax during this quarantine. I’ve also gained a lot more patience.”

Arundel High senior Sahara Portlance, 17, poses with her cap and gown. “I was super excited because it was the beginning of the school year, and picking up my cap and gown made me realize that it was really my senior year,” she said.

Seniors’ lives in this pandemic are ever-changing, and they say they are ready to take on the challenge.

Portlance, who plans to attend the University of Mississippi, said her college has announced it will hold classes in person in the fall.

“It’ll be weird to have my first in-person class in the past year also be my first college class, but I’m excited to see how it all works out,” she said.


Founded in 1975, the Washington Association of Black Journalists is an organization of Black journalists, journalism professors, public relations professionals and student journalists in the D.C., metro area. WABJ provides members with ongoing professional education opportunities and advocates for greater diversification of the profession.