The last time the class of 2022 was in the building was back when they were only sophomores. Now, they have returned, only this time as seniors. As well as being back in, some senior traditions have been upheld, and some have not.
Each senior class goes into their year with high expectations of fulfilling the senior traditions- the biggest one being using the senior core. To many, the senior core is a place where their last high school memories are made. Students utilize it during their free periods, lunch times, before and after school to bond with their classmates, and to have a place in the school seniors can call their own. This year, administrators deemed the senior core as not COVID-friendly since it’s considered a place of gathering. While the senior class respects this decision, many students feel it is preventing them from having the senior year they have been looking forward to since their first day at ORHS.
When asked about not being able to use the senior core this year, Sophia Isaak (‘22) said, “having this be our last year of high school, I think it’s just sad for a lot of people because they want to have the full experience.” Many seniors returned to school hoping for a normal year. The senior core was something seniors were expecting to spend time in.
Sam Haskell (‘22) expanded and said that the senior core is “something we all have been waiting for since freshman year and it being taken away from us was sad.” Haskell continued to explain how the loss of the core is affecting the class. “I think we all know each other, but didn’t get to see one another for a while because of COVID-19. The senior core could have offered a better chance to socialize with not only our good friends, but [also] the people we don’t usually see outside of school.”
Haskell continued to explain why seniors should be allowed to use the core. “I think we should most definitely be able to use the core and I think, as a whole, the core is a great place to socialize and get work done together if you need help from other students.” He continued, “the senior core is a huge part of the senior experience and without it, the year feels incomplete.”
Isaak expanded on this and said, “just this week [during spirit week], people have been going in there, which is not allowed, but I feel like it has made us all closer. We have all been signing the wall and stuff and it just feels more like we are actually seniors.” She continued, “at the beginning of the year, I didn’t actually feel like a senior because we didn’t have a lot of the things seniors would usually have.”
Class President KK Kalinowki (‘22) explained that she understands the administration’s concerns. She said, “it’s totally understandable that we can’t go in there right now due to COVID-19 regulations and it’s not something that any faculty member is at fault for. It’s just the situation we’re in. Their job is to keep us safe before anything else and I’m glad they take that seriously.”
However, Kalinowski also understands how important the core is to the senior class. She said, “I think it’s making a lot of students frustrated because it is a vital part of the senior culture. Especially since the junior core was literally destroyed, [the senior core is] a tradition that we’ve looked forward to for the past three years.” She continued, “I also think that because other classes don’t know much about [the senior core], I think some seniors are scared that it’s going to die out.”
Administration members acknowledge that keeping seniors out of the core is affecting the class. Michael McCann, the Dean of Students, said, “I know people are missing the core. I understand, but at least we are back in school and we are able to give people lockers [in the core].” He continued, “I’m sure there is still that sense of loss when you don’t get to do something that is a tradition and you’re looking forward to something and you don’t get it. I’m sure that bothers some people, especially because it’s not something you can just get back because after this year, you aren’t here.”
While students do understand the importance of following COVID-19 guidelines, many feel that these guidelines are only implemented at certain times. This makes them feel that it is unreasonable to call the senior core “not COVID friendly.” Isaak explained, “in class, for the most part, we are not sitting that far away from each other. We are all actually pretty close to each other. Same thing when you are walking through the hallways during the switch of the bell. We will all be crowded into the hallway and, yeah, we have masks on, but we are still super close.” She continued, “I feel like a few of us sitting in the senior core isn’t that big of a deal because people just go there during their free periods, so it’s not like the whole class is going to be in there all at once.”
Oyster River High School Principal, Rebecca Noe, acknowledged that COVID-19 guidelines are not always followed during the school day. She said, “in some classrooms, it’s hard to do the three feet. There are some classrooms where you physically can’t do the three feet, like the computer room. There’s just 22 kids and you don’t have 22 computers three feet apart. So, issues like that have come up but the actual guideline says ‘whenever possible.’” She continued to explain that the core being closed off is to prevent avoidable group gatherings.
However, closing off the core is not something the administration wants to continue to do for the whole year. Their decision was a result of COVID-19 cases rising in the state, but also because students haven’t fully proven to be responsible when it comes to COVID-19 guidelines. Noe said, “part of [proving responsible] would honestly be when we have school events like Mr. Bobcat and the Hypnotist show [where] people stay where they are supposed to.”
Using the night of Mr. Bobcat as an example, she said, “we had to make an announcement to ask students to stop moving stickers. We put them so that [the seats] were three feet apart. We want people to be together, but we have to follow that [three-feet rule] as much as possible.” She continued to explain that she would use the pep rally day event as another test to see how well students would follow the COVID-19 guidelines. “I think what happens here [at the pep rally] is going to tell me a lot about how seniors can handle having the core open.”
Now that the pep rally has occurred, Noe followed up on this. She said, “I don’t want to say [the seniors] failed [to follow COVID-19 guidelines] at the pep rally. I would say we need more practice [at following COVID-19 guidelines]. We aren’t competent yet. It wasn’t everybody [who wasn’t wearing masks]… my observation was that it was the same three core groups of kids that kept taking them off, but they were kind of big groups. They would not leave [the masks] on.” However, she continued. “There is still an opportunity [to open the core again] but I don’t see it happening before the end of first semester.”
McCann continued on this, saying, “it’s natural for people to gather and get together and it’s a problem that happens outside too. When you’re outside, it’s just not the same kind of issue… it isn’t so much about seniors proving [to be] responsible, but rather the nature of [wanting to gather] as well.” He continued to explain when specifically the core could be opened again. “If we are in the green and we don’t need masks, then I don’t see why we wouldn’t be able to open [the core] up. I don’t want to be skeptical, but I don’t know if that’s gonna happen anytime soon given the trends and cases around the state.”
However, Isaak believes that if the senior core was open, many would be more careful and willing to follow the COVID-19 guidelines. “If we wear masks, I just don’t see the issue… there’s also teachers around there all the time, so if they really cared, they can check to make sure [we are all three feet apart]. I’m also sure everyone would wear their masks and stuff if we actually got to sit there.”
Annika Kell (‘22) expanded on this. “I feel like students would bring their own lawn chairs and with those it is easy to sit three feet apart if we are given the chance to use the core. I think seniors would know enough to follow that rule and self-regulate.” She continued, “I feel like our administration should at least give us a chance to prove that we can be trusted with this and if it ends up not working out, they can always take it away. I am confident that our seniors are able to follow the rules.”
Administrators understand that seniors are upset about losing the core so they wanted to do something extra for the senior class. They decided to have a pizza party before the pep rally on the turf specifically for the seniors. Kalinowski said, “the pizza party for seniors was also pretty epic and I think a lot of seniors enjoyed having that time reserved just for them to eat and socialize.”
Many are also still grateful for the events they have had this year. Kalinowski said, “all of the COVID-19 regulations rob us of a lot of opportunities to get close as a class, but we’re really thankful that we could have as much [of a] spirit week as we did. It’s one of the most integral parts of school spirit… our senior run was something [that] I mentioned was super important to seniors and I’m glad we were able to have it.”
As for the future of the core, Noe and other administrators have said that it is unlikely to be opened by the end of the semester. However, if COVID-19 cases begin to decline sooner than expected, the senior core may be opened.