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Personal Essay: Jessica Bates on public school closures

Jessica Bates is an intern with The Retriever. Photo courtesy of Jessica Bates.

March 12, 4:25 p.m.: Emails, text messages and Snapchat stories, all alerting me of the shocking news that I watched roll across the bottom of the screen as Governor Larry Hogan announced that all Maryland public schools would be closed for two weeks. 

It wasn’t that it was shocking in a scary way – that part hasn’t hit me yet — it was that one of the years that I’m supposed to remember forever, my high school graduation year, was in question. There was, and still is, so much that is up in the air. Although we are set to return in two weeks, I, as well as my classmates, and even our teachers, wonder if it will actually happen.

It wasn’t too long after the news broke that the Twitter memes began. They were funny at first —one saying the class of 2020 would graduate via Google Classroom — but then concerns started to hit home. 

What will happen if the “break” lasts for longer? Will the end of the quarter be moved? Will spring break be taken away? For my senior friends and I, the possible cancellation of major functions like graduation and prom is truly the main question lingering.

Ever since I knew what high school graduation was, I’ve had an idea of how that day would be: sunny, 70 degrees. Moving the tassel from one side to the other is one of those events I’ve always envisioned. But what if I never get this moment? The daunting reality that graduation could be unconventional because public gatherings of 250 people or more must be postponed or canceled, and without a clear end of the coronavirus in sight, life is, in a sense, at a standstill. 

In my world, this standstill is at all levels. I cannot go to school, I cannot go to my internship, nor can I attend my dual-enrolled classes. What can I do? For any student — college or high school — school is all that we know; it embodies our entire lives. Even though this is a temporary break, it feels as though I’m losing so much. And don’t get me wrong, I absolutely understand why this has to occur, it’s just that there are so many unknowns. 

For me, these unknowns really only exist in the “what will happen” arena; for others, these unknowns are more in the “how will I eat?” and “how will I complete assignments if schools move to online?” realm. I live in Howard County and go to a school that has a sizable portion of students in the Free and Reduced Lunch program. These students live under a certain income level and receive meals, and other things like SAT and AP prices, at a lesser price than others. Although schools are providing lunches on weekdays, and this closure does not include online classes, various students could be jeopardized in a situation of longer closures. 

And if these closures do end after the two week time period, how will it affect spring break? How would a cancellation affect students like me who already have plans? My plans are fairly simple, visiting my family in Ohio, but what about my friends who had flights booked and hotels reserved? 

These unknowns are amplified even further as I ask my parents if they’ve ever experienced something such as this. A simple response follows: “never.” The world is in utter chaos and there’s so much anxiety streaming through people’s veins. It can be difficult to remain level-headed as it seems as though everyone else is falling victim to the anxiety all around me. 

The school board doesn’t have answers, the state doesn’t have answers and the country definitely doesn’t have answers. But there is one answer that we all do have, and that is to wash our hands.

Jessica Bates is currently an intern with The Retriever. She is a senior at Long Reach High School in Howard County.