In March, Gov. Tom Wolf ordered Pennsylvania’s K through 12 schools closed to help stop the spread of COVID-19. That meant high school students had to adjust to a new “normal” of learning remotely.
For Ronit Patel, a senior at State College Area High School who is also a musician, that has meant turning to music.
“To let out all my frustrations about quarantine and stuff, I just sing. I belt my heart out and sing," Patel said. "And, I feel like it’s really helped me stay kind of positive in this horrible, horrible time.”
Across Centre County and the state, high school seniors have dealt with the repercussions of stay-at-home orders and missing their last few months of high school.
“There’s just so many things that I’ve been looking forward to such as senior prom and graduation, and taking pictures with my friends, and saying goodbye to some teachers, and I just won't be able to get to do that, and it’s very disappointing," Patel said.
Patel was a varsity member of the boys tennis team when the news broke across the district that the spring sports season had been canceled.
“I was very excited to see how our team would do this season and if we would make it to districts and maybe even states, and we won’t ever get that chance. We missed out on that chance," he said.
Mihret Strauss was a State High senior and a seasoned runner on the girls track and field team. She also witnessed first hand what it was like to miss out on a spring sports season.
“Since I do track and field, it’s really hard not to have a last season to make some progress and see State High win again," she said. "Even though this is all happening, I am still so thankful that my friends and family are all safe, and that I can see them when everything is over.”
Strauss is one of seven family members all living under the same roof.
“I am super lucky that my mom did not lose her job teaching at Penn State," she said.
For other students, the closing of schools meant going home without goodbye.
Ana Nogueria, a junior from Madrid, Spain, was on exchange in the United States, living with a host family in Centre County when worries began to set in. As COVID-19 cases began to increase rapidly worldwide, Nogueria’s program gave all students overseas the option to either stay or come home at their own risk.
“I thought people were overreacting. I thought it wasn’t that big of a deal. That it was just a virus. It’s just that it was new and people were scared," she said. "Now I understand it.”
Nogueria safely arrived back in Madrid at the end of March.
“People here are really close to each other. When you say hi to someone, you give two kisses. We eat dinner with extended family a lot," she said. "When I think about going back, the only thing that makes me really happy right now is thinking that one day I’ll get out my house and I’ll see my friends who I haven’t seen in a super long time. And one day I’ll see my family. I’ll see my little cousin and I’ll see my grandparents.”
Miranda Julia Marks just finished her freshman year at the State College Area Delta Program. She’s also a local climate activist. Before school went online, Marks and other students would leave school every Friday to protest climate change at the front steps of the State College Municipal Building.
“It has been incredibly frustrating seeing people not take the coronavirus seriously," Marks said. "As a climate activist though, much of my life is spent trying to convince people of the important of science and trying to make them unite behind it. So this nauseous, angry feeling isn’t new, but it definitely doesn’t get easier.”
Meanwhile, Marks has focused her attention on her social media campaign, “Why We Strike,” which features stories from climate activists around the world that also promote her message for change.
“When I look at myself in all of this, I see a young, fairly healthy middle-class person," she said. "And to me, that privilege means I have an obligation to fight for those who are most vulnerable and protect my community in every way possible.”
Kaden Litzinger, a graduating senior at the Delta Program, believes that as school transitioned online, students lost their sense of urgency.
Litzinger served as a teaching assistant at the Delta Program for the 2019-20 school year and saw first-hand how COVID-19 changed teacher-to-student instruction.
“As a teaching assistant, it’s really disappointing how my fellow peers and students don't have the willingness to engage in online learning," she said. "And it really shows just how important that face-to-face interaction is because it really motivates people to actually do their work.”
She is hoping that things will go back closer to normal for the fall.
“I think in-person instruction is incredibly important for people to learn," she said. "I think it keeps students engaged much more. However, maybe it works for some people who are more introverted and learn better going at their own pace. Although, I think for the greater population, in-person instruction is just overall better.”
Anjelica Rubin, a graduating State College Area Delta Program student, reported and filed this story for WPSU-FM. Rubin will be a student at Penn State in the fall.