Brightly-lit hallways, and spotless linoleum. The sound of squeaking, snow-wet sneakers and excited voices. That smell that every school seems to have, the one that’s somewhat like textbooks, somewhat like all-purpose cleaner, and somewhat like the muddy outdoors, but not definitively any of those things. Any other year, and these things would’ve meant nothing. Ever since the COVID-19 pandemic prevented us from gathering together safely, though, they’ve meant everything for this year’s seniors.
On Wednesday, February 10th, the ORHS class of 2021 was welcomed back to the building officially for the first time since September’s SAT testing. Organized by the Dean of Students, Michael McCann, Oyster River’s senior class was invited for an afternoon of activities, reuniting with their peers, and celebrating their last semester of high school.
The day was split into three periods to keep students moving throughout the building and prevent exposure. The first period was an advisory block that ran from 1:30 to 2:00pm. During that time, students were able to meet in person with their advisories, something they hadn’t done since March of last year, when the school shut down due to the COVID-19 pandemic. After the advisory period, there were two blocks of time, running from 2:00 to 2:30pm, and 2:30 to 3:00pm, wherein students could sign up for different activities. Such activities included playing games in the gym, decorating the senior core, doing art, performing music, and walking around campus.
Mia Hricz (‘21) was one student who attended the Senior Day. According to Hricz, the best part of coming back to the building was seeing classmates and teachers again. “It was so nice to see teachers and peers!” she said. “I only really see one or two friends regularly, and the rest not as much because it’s harder to be socially distant during the winter. It was calming and familiar to see the faces I’ve only seen behind a screen so far this year.”
Noah O’Hern (‘21) felt similarly. “I think it was a great way to see people I haven’t seen for a while, and also to meet up with the teachers that I haven’t seen since last year. It was just nice to get that personal connection we missed during the first semester.”
Indeed, creating an opportunity to interact with classmates was the goal of the day, according to McCann. Being their last year in high school, teachers and administration all stress the importance of making this year a memorable one. “It may not be a traditional year, but we can still try to make it fun within the given parameters,” said McCann.
Bringing so many students into the building during the middle of the pandemic required several precautions to keep students and staff safe. Throughout the school, the hallways had been split into two lanes, keeping people walking in opposite directions spaced from each other. Additionally, everyone was required to wear masks, and socially distance as much as possible. In cases where students weren’t able to socially distance as well, or they were touching school equipment, hand sanitizer was provided frequently.
There were numerous other changes the building had undergone as well. According to O’Hern, seeing those changes was encouraging. “It was cool to see the lunch room, and how the school is responding and adapting to COVID-19,” he said. With the school working as hard as possible to prioritize safety, many students felt comfortable coming back into the building.
A s it works to transition to an in-person school model, ORHS has been bringing in different classes in the meantime. With COVID-19, students have been unable to come to the building for the most part. According to McCann, the advisory committee, a group of teachers and administrators, were responsible for organizing the days for each class.
“We brought the freshman in at the beginning of the year, and the sophomores had an opportunity to come in as well. The next on our list was the seniors,” said McCann. Many students in the class of 2021 feel as though they’re missing out on what is supposed to be their best year of high school. Being stuck at home and unable to see friends is wearing on a lot of students, so administration felt it was critical to increase social interaction, even if just for an afternoon. After polling the seniors to see what they would like to do, and figuring out what the school was capable of offering, the plan was put into motion.
Still, there are a lot of things that the class of 2021 has missed out on for good. “We are missing so much of that senior stuff, like pep rallies, dances, Mr. Bobcat, and school plays. Just the small things that everyone wants to remember from their senior year, we don’t really get,” Hricz said, when asked about how she felt her year was going overall. Despite feeling sad about the lack of experiences she gets to have this year, Hricz still recognized that administration is trying its best to make things fun. “I definitely miss those aspects of school, but know it’s super hard with all the rules and guidelines, and I know that administration is working really hard.”
O’Hern took a similar perspective as well. He also has come up with ways to keep his morale up, saying, “even though it’s sad that we can’t be in school for our senior year, I personally try to find as much time to see my friends as I can, because I feel like that’s super important.”
McCann shared that the entirety of the Oyster River community feels for the class of 2021. “[They’re] missing out on memories they won’t necessarily get the chance to make again,” he said. “I’m optimistic though. Things will be different with the hybrid model in March, and there are still things for students to look forward to. I hope seniors see the silver lining. It’s a hard year, but we’ll pull through.”
That said, administration wants to hear from students. They’re just as anxious to get back to normal, and they encourage students to reach out and communicate things they’d like to see happen. “We can’t always accommodate everything, but we’ll do our best. If students have ideas, we definitely want to hear them,” said McCann.
Regardless, seniors do have a lot to look forward to. According to 2021’s Class President, Ella Gianino (‘21), Assassin will be taking place this April. “There will be a couple of changes for safety, but luckily shooting people with water guns is already pretty COVID-19 safe,” she said. She also noted there will be a combined Senior Skip Day and Destination Day that is currently planned for May 7th, Project Graduation, and the Junior and Senior Gala. “Also, for those who miss Mr. Bobcat, we will be having that eventually,” Gianino said. “Once we figure out which facilities we can use, planning for Mr. Bobcat will start to happen.”
As of now, the next class event will be held for the juniors, though McCann is uncertain of exactly when that will be. There will also be other, schoolwide opportunities to see friends in the coming months. On February 21st, ORHS students are invited to Churchill Rink in Durham, NH for a day of ice skating. Spots are limited, so students are encouraged to sign up as soon as possible.