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'It's very surreal': Yorkville High School seniors reflect on shutdown, postponed prom and graduation

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YORKVILLE – Yorkville High School senior Hannah Schafermeyer said she has been fairly involved for most of her high school career. Lately, her main commitments included the school's chapter of National Honor Society, YHS Student Council and being a student ambassador, on top of working a part-time job within the Starbucks store at the Yorkville Target.

Schafermeyer said a lot of her focus shifted to her art classes, particularly pottery and ceramics, and her involvement within the school's chapter of the National Art Honor Society as her high school career was coming to a close this year.

“That’s kind of where I found myself,” Schafermeyer said.

That all came to an abrupt end when Illinois Gov. JB Pritzker initially closed schools for traditional instruction starting March 17. Since then, the governor has announced that school buildings will remain closed and e-learning will continue through the remainder of the school year.

Schafermeyer said e-learning hasn't been easy, especially with Advanced Placement, or AP, college-level tests to study for. She had off-campus lunch with her close group of friends this year, she said, and those have since been substituted with Zoom alternatives.

Needless to say, this was not at all how Schafermeyer thought her last couple of months of high school would go, she said.

“It’s very surreal,” Schafermeyer said.

Schafermeyer's comments come after David Travis, principal for Yorkville High School, wrote in an email to families on Monday, April 20 that the date for prom had been rescheduled to June 25 in Aurora and graduation was rescheduled for June 27 at the high school's football stadium due to the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic.

Tim Shimp, superintendent for Yorkville School District 115, said during the district's remote Board of Education meeting that senior recognition events are in limbo right now. He said Travis continues to talk with staff about plans for those events.

Whether those events are held virtually or from an extreme social distance, Shimp said, staff will figure something out for this year's seniors. He said staff put physical graduation dates out there with the "greatest hope and fingers crossed" they can happen as planned.

“But I’m not completely optimistic yet those will all come to fruition,” Shimp said.

School board president Lynn Burks, who is a national dean and on faculty at DeVry University, said during the Monday meeting college staff also is working on putting together a virtual graduation for those students as well

"It is what it is, right? Giving closure and making the best of a situation," Burks said.

Schafermeyer said e-learning has since gotten easier with several weeks under her belt now. While it's not a substitute for in-person instruction, she said, she's enjoyed the opportunity to see her classmates through Zoom whenever it presents itself.

And even if she and her friends aren't getting together for the usual off-campus lunch during the day, Schafermeyer said, they have since started having virtual coffee and chat sessions every Wednesday.

“It’s nice because it’s just a nice little bit of reality and it’s good to catch up with people," Schafermeyer said.

Yorkville High School senior Evan Naumann said he's also been studying for his own AP classes and tests via e-learning and looking ahead to attending St. John's University in New York City in the fall. In between that, he said, his lunch group has been getting together over Zoom three days per week to help keep themselves sane – even his English teacher planned a virtual game night to help keep socialization up as much as possible.

Naumann, who was heavily involved in the school's music program and several honor societies, said that, truth be told, his knee-jerk reaction when hearing about school not returning face-to-face for the rest of the year was anger. Anger for his class already having their last day of school in person without realizing it. Anger for not being able to say goodbye to friends and teachers face-to-face before stepping out of school as a student for the last time. Anger that the next time he'll likely set foot on campus is as an alumnus.

What made those emotions more frustrating to Naumann was not being angry at a person, since it's no one's fault that everything had to radically change because of a virus, he said.

“It's now just adjusting to how this kind of has to be,” Naumann said.

Schafermeyer said she was definitely bummed to hear that school would not returning in a traditional capacity this school year. However, she said, it'll be the little things, like studying and getting ice cream with her friends, that will bring a smile to her face when she recalls her favorite memories of high school.

While Schafermeyer is grateful for the high school experiences she's had up to this point, she said, it's still disappointing that she might not be able to see them through before beginning school at University of Wisconsin-Madison in the fall. She said it was unfortunate to hear the news initially, though she's still optimistic about having prom and graduation with her classmates later this year.

“But I’ve also come to terms with, out of safety concerns … it was important at this time that we wouldn’t go back to school,” Schafermeyer said.

School board secretary Ashley Shields also mentioned a Facebook group called "Adopt a YHS Senior" during the Monday school board meeting. Shields said it's meant to connect high school seniors, who are nominated by their parents or guardians, with those who want to send those students notes of encouragement, care packages or anything else that would show appreciation for their hard work.

Naumann said that kind of sentiment is appreciated, but it's kind of a double-edged sword for him. He said it's nice to see everyone trying to come together for the sake of his class with signs for the seniors in their yards, for example, and trying to do everything in their power to make sure this graduating class isn't missing out.

But they are missing out regardless, Naumann said. That kind of special attention shows how much more he and his classmates won't get compared to other graduating classes, he said.

Naumann said all he wants is to just be the Class of 2020. Like the classes that came before them, “we just want to graduate and move on,” he said.

If nothing else, Naumann said, he hopes he and his classmates can at least have those traditional experiences that all other kids get to have, one way or another. But at least they'll have a tale to tell, he said.

“No one is going to forget their senior years this year, for sure,” Naumann said.

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