By Carol Stiffler
When Jared Wallace packed up the contents of his locker on Friday, March 13, he had no way to tell it would be the last time he walked the halls of Newberry High School as a high school student.
Wallace, an excellent student, played basketball and ran track and cross country most of his high school career. He tried golf in 10th grade. He was recently crowned homecoming king.
Wallace was planning to continue pole vaulting in the upcoming track and field season – maybe he would have beaten his meet record of 10 feet, 6 inches. Newberry’s best pole vaulter graduated last year, so that staggering height wasn’t enough to win competitions – until now.
“This was going to be my year,” Wallace said.
He had a prom date. On April 25, he was planning to escort his date to a swanky event at the Grand Hotel on Mackinac Island on a night most students anticipate for years.
In a flash, high school ended for Michigan students in the Class of 2020, including 39 seniors from Newberry High School. Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer made the call on Wednesday, April 1 to end face-to-face learning this year. The unprecedented effort is an attempt to slow the spread of coronavirus, which is ravaging the state, primarily in Michigan’s biggest cities.
The students understand the need, but it’s been painful for them.
“People are pretty upset,” Wallace said. “They’ve been looking forward to this stuff all year, and longer than that. That’s what you work for, to walk across the stage.”
Superintendent Stacy Price, who also has a daughter in the Class of 2020, says her heart aches for them.
“I have a profound sadness that I can’t really put into words. I feel like I am in a dream and can’t wake up,” Price said. “I feel it will take some time to really comprehend what has happened to the school year, but more importantly to us as a society and world.”
Price hopes the class of 2020 can cherish the memories they were able to make. “Those memories probably have a greater meaning than you ever thought,” she said.
Across the U.P., Price and other school officials are brainstorming to find ways to give the senior class experiences they will otherwise miss out on.
Deb Canfield, athletic secretary for grades 7-12 at TAS, had already rescheduled prom for a date in June when she realized that wouldn’t be possible, either.
“They still are kids in my book, and I do think that somehow the school and this community will find ways to make it up to the Class of 2020,” Canfield said. It won’t be easy – some kids have already committed to basic training, summer jobs, or are making plans to move. She’d still like to get them to Mackinac Island late this summer – if the threat has lifted – so they can enjoy the sights and dine at the Grand Hotel.
“Many of the students that I am in contact with are very disappointed and feel robbed, and some are angry,” she said. “But I do believe in their hearts they know that so many people care enough about their safety that school had to be cancelled due to the danger of this awful virus that is infecting and killing thousands.”
Price said teachers will meet to revise and discuss lesson plans for all other grades next year, and said this experience has brought to light the disparity between districts. Some school districts have simply moved to online learning. Others, like TAS, know that’s not possible – not every student has internet access at home – so they are relying on homework packets and phone calls from teachers.
There is a silver lining – these seniors now have more time to spend with their families before heading into the great big world. Price is grateful for that time with her graduating daughter.
“We have had many conversations on how to use this time for planning, learning new hobbies, and learning about what she wants to,” Price said. “Also, it has been a great time for getting things together for scholarships. We have talked about all the great things that have come from the experience: how people have come together to help each other out and show kindness; what we can do to help others. All great life lessons.”