It’s a time-honored tradition for students who drive to East High School. Every year, usually right before school starts, they get to decorate their parking spots. It’s a moment for kids to personalize their time as juniors and seniors. But in 2020, they had to wait until mid-October.
Things have been different this semester for a lot of reasons. Just as the pandemic pushed kids into online classrooms, it also pushed back the annual day of painting.
Fiona Wohannes, a senior, was finishing up her motif on Friday morning. A big yellow rectangle covers her patch of asphalt. Inside the box, curly locks float over bronze shoulders. It’s not quite a self-portrait, she said, despite her resemblance to the figure. She just wanted something with curly hair.
Until a few days ago, she thought she’d be able to park over the picture. But then Denver Public Schools announced it needed to delay in-person learning a little longer. Coronavirus cases are up again in Denver and across the state. She and her classmates will have to wait until November 9, at the earliest, to re-enter the building by City Park.
Wohannes said she almost didn’t paint her spot. It seemed futile. Another decorated patch near hers seemed to echo the feeling: “If you’re reading this, I’m late. JK we’re ~never~ going back to school.”
But Wohannes said she changed her mind.
“You know what? I’m going to do this. I’m going to do this for me,” she recalled thinking to herself. “Doing little things like this makes me feel like I have control over my senior year.”
It’s been a tough go for some students.
Across the lot, juniors Zach Lawton, Jasper Rich and Doug Campbell were finishing up a friendly purple dinosaur adorning Lawton’s space.
Like Wohannes, they each wondered if they’d ever get to park over their masterpieces. Campbell said the last nine weeks haven’t been so bad, but he and his friends felt like they weren’t getting much out of their virtual learning regimens.
For one thing, Lawton said, the school year was divided into quarters.
“We just did a semester’s worth of classes in 9 weeks,” he said. “I don’t feel like I learned a ton.”
While this new kind of schooling has made it easier to go mountain biking every afternoon, finding the motivation to log on and participate every day has been tough.
“Time management is what I’ve been struggling with,” he said.
Their grades, too, have been hard to keep up with. Lawton said he gets feedback on assignments a few weeks after he completes them. His first quarter’s classes have ended, and he still doesn’t know how he did. He’s not sure if he needed to butter up any teachers for extra credit. Now, it’s too late.
Then again, Rich said it might not matter.
“I feel like I’m behind, always, but the grades don’t really reflect that,” he said.
Campbell said he feels like nobody really cares if he doesn’t show up to class.
“It’s a weird year,” Lawton said.
“It’s a joke,” Campbell added.
Lawton said he worries he won’t be prepared for his senior year, assuming he’s allowed to go back in person in 2021.
Wohannes’ experience with the virtual classes haven’t been as bleak. She said she’s been getting along fine, but she worries about classmates who need a classroom atmosphere and one-on-one time with teachers.
“For those people who don’t have the family support, the means to create an environment at home, it gets difficult,” she said. “There are definitely moments when I feel like I can’t do it.”
But Wohannes is not worried about making it to graduation. What comes next, though, is still up in the air.
She’s applying to colleges; she hopes to pursue a pre-med track. A year ago, she was dreaming of a university that might give her the chance to study abroad. She’s thinking less about that now.
Instead, Wohannes said she’s just looking for a school that can offer financial aid. She’s decided not to spend much time on public schools outside of Colorado, figuring they won’t have a lot of money to offer.
And if it becomes obvious she won’t have the opportunity to attend classes on a campus next year, she might rethink her plans.
“I might think about taking a gap year,” she said. “I’m just going to take it as it comes.”