by Bill Batson
If our health care system was the sector most upended by the COVID-19 pandemic, our educational systems have been a close second. For students in the Nyack School District, classrooms moved from the schoolhouse to the cloud; rites of passage, like proms and graduations, were ruined and the economy they will enter has ground to a halt.
A group of parents invited Nyack Sketch Log to contribute an illustration to celebrate the Class of 2020, and a signed print was given to all 270 graduating seniors. In it, the Village of Nyack is the backdrop to graduation caps flung high above Hook Mountain. But as much as I like to tell a story with an image, the words that caption the sketch convey my main message. Adults may have rallied during coronavirus, earning the hashtag #nyackstrong, but the students who are being forged by a furnace fueled by a global pandemic, social unrest, and economic upheaval, making them now, and forever, among Nyack’s strongest.
School Board Trustee Election
The School Board Trustee election is being held by mail. Ballots must be dropped off in person at the district office by 5p, today, Tuesday, June 9 or received by the district by mail through June 16th.
The District Administration Building address is 13A Dickinson Ave, Nyack, NY 10960.
Anyone who has lost or not received a ballot can reach out to Linda DeCicco (email@example.com) or call 353-7015.
Interviews with 22 students, a parent who organized improvised ceremonies to honor graduates, a teacher and union leader, and Nyack High School’s principal form the content of this Nyack Sketch Log time capsule. On a day when School Board ballots must be delivered to the administration building, take pride in our world-class public school community by voting and finding ways to support the inspiring class of 2020.
Yvianick Saint-Vi, Student Representative to the Board of Education
What are some of the challenges facing the class of 2020?
This year has been transformative for the class of 2020. We’ve had to grow up faster than anyone should while getting some of the best parts of our childhood ripped away right before our eyes. We’re facing challenges like a decrease in jobs–especially for those saving for college–and never truly knowing what normal is.
We’re forced to step up and create a new normal for not only ourselves but for generations to come–and with all this responsibility, there is an increase in pressure and the feeling of the world on our shoulders.
What are your hopes for the future, both personally, for the community, and for your classmates?
Ultimately, my hope for the future is: change. I hope that I will be able to live my life without fear. That I can enjoy my time seeking higher education, that my family’s well-being doesn’t invoke worry every time they go outside. And that I’ll be able to find my place in a world that has accepted its need to change.
For my community, I hope they continue on the path of creating an education system rooted in telling the stories of all people. That they realize how rare a place like Nyack is, and that we continue to use our community to educate, reform, and extend our influence on places that may not be as lucky.
And for my classmates, I hope that we are able to realize that even though we have missed out on so much, we are the leaders now. It is up to us to create the change we want to see, fight for all people, speak up for those society has wished to silence, and to take care of one another. That is the only way we will move forward.
What has been the toughest aspect of this year for you?
Not being able to tell the people who have had a huge impact in my life how much I appreciate them in person. That so many of my “lasts” were gone before I even knew it. And coming to terms with the fact that I’ll never get a proper send-off with some of the kids I’ve known since I was in diapers.
What moment(s) have you found most inspirational?
When my High School uploaded its “Lean on Me” cover. I just remember seeing all my teachers in the video–many probably going out of their comfort zone–to show their support for us during this time. And also participating in our drive-by “Clap Out” and just seeing how much my school was doing everything they could to make this time just a little better for us. It truly warmed my heart.
What was your favorite part of distance learning?
I think the only thing I liked about distance learning was being able to set my own hours of when I should get my work done. Oh, and getting more sleep. 🙂
What was your least favorite?
I did not enjoy impersonal learning at all. A lot of the time, it just felt like busy work and it was hard to find the drive and purpose to get assignments done. Some subjects in school just aren’t made to be taught online and that really revealed itself during distance learning. And not being able to be in the midst of my peers as we all tried to get through a class was something I missed tremendously.
Any final words for your classmates?
Despite the odds, we still made it! Be proud of yourself and find the time to reflect on these four years of high school. Remember your highs, lows, and everything in between, and just basque in that feeling, because now the real work begins. It is our time to reclaim what we’ve been deprived of, but now on our terms. So try your hardest to live in the moment and fill your time (six feet apart) with family and friends. Take them in, because from now on we call the shots of our own lives, so it’s imperative we make each moment count. Congrats!
Idelyn Caneiro, PTSA and Project Graduation Committee Member
How has your senior been coping with distance learning?
Chris has been coping well. I think the obvious hardest part has been not being able to interact with his friends and teachers on a daily basis at school. The biggest hardship is not being able to experience the senior moments that he has been looking forward to for so long.
I understand that you’ve been organizing ways to commemorate graduation for the Class of 2020 after commencement was cancelled. How have you done that?
Yes, I am part of the PTSA and Project Graduation Committee. A large group of us has tried to find ways to make this difficult time a little better for the seniors. One of the things we did for them was get lawn signs for all of the seniors so that the community could see who our seniors are and help us congratulate them.
What are some of the life lessons you think our seniors have learned?
That life isn’t easy and that they will have to overcome obstacles that they encounter that are small and life changing. Hopefully they find strength in the accomplishment of getting through this.
How can the community support the Class of 2020?
The community has already been supporting the Class of 2020 by donating towards different events and sponsorships. Parents, local businesses, teachers, administration, and many others have been extremely supportive and generous.
Thomas Burns, English teacher and President of the Nyack Teachers Association
As always, the experience of teaching is dramatically different from individual to individual. The transition to distance learning has been different for all of us depending on subject area, comfort level with technology, and, perhaps most especially, what grade you teach. Secondary teachers can expect a certain level of autonomy from their students when it comes to logging on to live classes and accessing assignments, but elementary teachers need the help of someone at home to be sure their students participate. Secondary teachers contend with poor attendance due to the fact that their students sometimes don’t wake up until noon. And elementary teachers must manage twenty fidgeting first graders each in their own box on a computer screen.
As this has progressed, we have transitioned from learning packets and posted lessons on class platforms such as Google and Schoology, to a hybrid of posted work and live teaching through Zoom. The speed with which teachers have adapted their curricula and methods has been remarkable and we have done the very best we can. But this is, at best, a poor substitute for the kind of teaching we want to do and that our students need.
Again, this varies for each individual. I have the luxury of having adult age children who are out of the house. My only distraction is my dog, but some of my colleagues are trying to manage infants, toddlers, or elementary-age children while planning and executing lessons for their students. I have heard stories of teachers conducting Zoom sessions with children sitting on their laps or students being interrupted by siblings or parents while they “attend” a class. To be sure, there are some advantages: no commute, working in your pajamas, but it is also isolating and lonely.
The district did an outstanding job of trying to make sure each student had a device and a WiFi connection before we shut down, and has tried to keep track of all our students both academically and emotionally. We’ve been using the word “engaged” when discussing whether students were getting work done and showing up for live instruction. While attendance for Zoom sessions is generally not satisfactory, especially at the high school level, most students have been completing and submitting their assignments, and so it is fair to say there is a decent level of engagement. Like their teachers, they adjusted to very difficult circumstances as best they could, but we know this will have some lasting consequences on their learning and we will have to work hard to address that.
One of the most significant aspects of school that cannot be replaced to any degree by remote instruction is the social and extracurricular component. All of us feel horribly for our seniors who have lost out on some memorable moments, and we have heard of frustration, stress, and a whole range of emotions throughout the grade levels.
What are your hopes for next year?
The ideal version of next year would be a return to normal schooling; however, the more realistic but still hopeful version is probably some hybrid of remote instruction and in person. I appreciate how difficult this is and I know the safety of students and staff will guide any decisions the district makes.
Nyack High School Principal, Nicole Saieva
Has leading Nyack High School through the COVID-19 quarantine been your greatest challenge as an educator?
Yes. As many know, the best aspect of every educator’s job is the students. We chose careers in education to work with young people. Not having the ability to interact with our students daily has been difficult. The laughs, stories, and moments shared were taken away from us.
The warmth of Nyack High School is created by the people who occupy it each day. COVID-19 has taken the in-person richness of our jobs away from us. One of the other challenges we face is providing our students with the things they need to be successful. The needs of our students vary, and include instructional, emotional, technological, and fundamental support.
What are some of your most poignant memories from this time?
My most poignant memories are of the cohesiveness and commitment of the staff at Nyack High School. Weekly department meetings with teachers, counselors, and teaching assistants confirm what I already knew. We are a staff that makes decisions based on our students and will do anything possible to assist and support them as they work to be successful. The learning community at Nyack High School has continued to develop and grow. We have learned new platforms, thought outside the box, and taken many risks to transition quickly to remote learning. Our students continue to demonstrate their ability to adapt and be creative. Collectively, we have remained resilient. However, the most poignant memory for me is the sense of loss I feel and share with the members of the staff.
In what ways has the class of 2020 risen to this occasion?
The Class of 2020 has risen to the occasion throughout their years at Nyack High School. This year, we supported each other as we mourned the loss of our beloved Ms. Williams. And due to COVID-19, the members of the Class of 2020 have lost the opportunity to celebrate many traditional celebrations. However, they have continued to show their outstanding character.
What words will you offer as your seniors enter a world being transformed by an ongoing public health crisis and social unrest?
The senior class will be remembered for the sacrifices they have made, but this pandemic and social unrest provide them an opportunity to “transform” the new norm. We have learned and observed systems which have worked and more which have not. My advice to the future leaders of tomorrow is to seize the opportunity
to be a change agent, correct the wrongs, and lead us to a better place.
What will you miss most about the class of 2020?
I will miss so many things about the Class of 2020. I will miss their individual personalities, talents, and interests. The graduating Class of 2020 is comprised of students who have the confidence to advocate for themselves and others while demonstrating empathy for those who are struggling. But their genuine love for one another is what I will miss the most.
In short, I wish the Class of 2020 years of happiness and good luck. I hope the love they have given throughout the years comes back to them multiplied, which they richly deserve.
Reflections from the Class of 2020
Here are 21 responses to the following prompt:
If you could speak to a high school senior 100 years from now, what are three words and one or two sentences you would use to describe your senior year?
Hopeful. Promising, Relieving. It was supposed to be one of the best year of my life.
Crazy. Interesting. Strange
I won’t forget my senior year because of how strange it was.
Confusing. New. Unifying
My senior year was cut short, but I still feel that I made the most of what I had.
Crazy. Unprecedented. Fun
We graduated during a global pandemic.
Different. Memorable. Stress-free.
My senior year, I had the ability to take classes that I wanted to take; with the exception of one or two classes needed to graduate. Also, I got a chance to show my talents and perform outside of the normal seasonal concerts. Because of the transition to remote learning, I have not been able to see my teachers, classmates and friends. It taught me to appreciate things and the people in my life even more. I have had great teachers this year and my entire high school career. Also, I have made great friends that will last a long time.
Surreal. Perseverance. Sad
At first it was surreal that a virus could just end your senior year, but this class adapted and overcame what was happening. I’m proud to be a senior in 2020.
Surreal. Exciting Brotherhood
Enjoy every second because everything can change overnight.
Realizing. Maturing. Growing.
My senior year was filled with ups and downs. At times, I wasn’t even sure of my own abilities. At the end, I learned my strength and realized how important it is to carry that through life.
Robbed. From. Us
We had the rest of our lives to not be in high school yet the last year we had here was taken away too soon.
Abrupt. Disappointing. Lonely
Don’t take your time in high school for granted, it’ll be gone before you can blink.
Disappointing. Short. Quarantined
Senior year is the best time in high school, unless a pandemic occurs and makes you stay at home for 2 months and miss out on your senior year.
Unforgettable, Amazing. Enjoyable
It was a challenge I never experienced before and it will be an unforgettable year to remember.
Time. Distance. No graduation ceremony
My last year was very different then how I had planned it initially. It’s always difficult to say goodbye to the teachers and my friends, but I didn’t even have time to do that because of the virus.
Crazy, Insane. Amazing
It was a wild wild time. But we got through it.
To enjoy and to have the best time in high school. May God give you wisdom to fight for your dreams
Unexpected. History-making. Memorable
Never take things for granted because I feel like we really took senior year for granted. We thought senior year was gonna be great and didn’t care much for anything, but now that it’s gone you realize how much you actually do care.
Quarantine, Coronavirus, Relieved
A bunch of milestones then quarantine
Enjoy your time
Take in all you can get because you never know what could happen.
Fun. Fast. Coronavirus
Enjoy it, do what we couldn’t do
Unpredictable. Unexpected. Unforgettable
Enjoy it while it lasts. Mine got cut short, and as much as I did appreciate it while I still had it, I wish I appreciated it more.
Short. Unfulfilling. Disappointing
After 13 years of school, the day to day will get boring and annoying and dreadful. But one day you will never see your outer circle friends again, have lunch in the caf, or class with your favorite teacher. And if that day comes any sooner then you expected, it will be more devastating than you realize. So just don’t hate on life too much.
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Bill Batson is an activist, artist and writer who lives and sketches in Nyack, NY. Nyack Sketch Log: “Nyack Sketch Log: Class of 2020” © 2020 Bill Batson. To see more, visit billbatsonarts.com