The past 10 weeks have been an education beyond measure. When Gov. Jim Justice closed schools to in-person instruction on March 13, we all hoped students could return to their classrooms within a few weeks. COVID-19 had other plans for our school year and our way of life. As the 2019-2020 school year comes to a close, we thought it was important to recognize high school seniors of the class of 2020 who are celebrating their milestone in the midst of a pandemic.
Any high school teacher or principal will tell you that spring break of a student’s senior year is a clear marker. Educators often struggle to put in place strategies, policies and plans to keep soon-to-be graduates engaged and senioritis at bay. Every day is an occasion as the days of the calendar are crossed off, culminating in high school graduations.
This year, these traditions became footnotes as we witnessed a new way of living, learning, teaching and serving. Gov. Justice made some difficult decisions to safeguard against the spread of disease as the pandemic began to rear its head causing us all to go and stay home. As we closed down everyday life, our teachers launched into remote-learning mode to keep students engaged, and our parents turned into home-schoolers, supporting learning as best they could. School service personnel worked with the West Virginia Department of Education and state agency partners to deliver more than one million meals each week and are now preparing to safely close school facilities for the summer while ramping up summer feeding programs.
Our nearly 18,000 seniors at 116 high schools have adjusted to making the best of their final days of high school. They have connected remotely for study groups, and they have resorted to pen and paper when needed to complete assignments and to drop a quick note to friends and teachers.
We’ve watched the class of 2020 step up with grit and determination in tackling the challenges of COVID-19. Even through the disappointments of an incomplete year — canceled proms, missed senior nights for spring sports, no opportunity to revel in the last days of high school together with their friends — our seniors continue to work through the emotional ups and downs with hope and with optimism. Has it been hard? Yes. Are there tears and tough moments? Yes. But are these young men and women pulling through and keeping their eyes on the future? Definitely yes.
It is also important that we recognize the toll the pandemic is having on everyone. We urge anyone having difficulty managing the crisis emotionally to reach out and talk to someone. Teachers can work with school principals and assist in helping students and families make those connections. There is always at least one caring adult from the school system to help.
The support that communities, educators and school service personnel have offered the class of 2020 is commended. Senior posters and yard signs now decorate neighborhoods, businesses and thoroughfares statewide recognizing graduates. We appreciate your continued commitment to celebrating our graduates wholeheartedly and responsibly. True West Virginia Mountaineer spirit cannot be denied or ignored. It consistently shines even in the darkest of times.
COVID-19 may have caused this chaos, but it certainly will not have the last word. We will leave that to the class of 2020, making its mark in the world. And to our incredible graduates; as you go off to make this mark, look over your shoulder, we are all there cheering you on. Best of luck, we are all so proud of you.