Holtville High School seniors Abigail Hester, 18, (clockwise from top left) and Richard Garcia, 18, and Calexico High seniors Fabian Reyna, 18, and Derek Lopez, 17, talk about what it feels like to lose their senior year, and the many special moments that come along with it, due to students being sent home to practice social distancing. | COURTESY PHOTOS/PHOTO ILLUSTRATION BY DANNY VALADEZ
IMPERIAL VALLEY — Fabian Reyna’s senior year started off as if in a dream. He helped guide his Calexico High School varsity basketball squad to the school’s first-ever CIF-San Diego Section championship earlier in the year, and he was on top of the world.
Then, the COVID-19 pandemic hit, and with it came the nightmare loss of the rest of his senior year.
“I felt like this year was supposed to be the year to remember. I was looking forward to making memories with my friends. Not being able to go back is hard and sad. We will not walk those halls anymore,” the 18-year-old Reyna said. “I feel like if we don’t get to walk and have that graduation ceremony, it is going to be hard.”
Holtville High senior Richard Garcia feels much the same way.
“I was very sad when I heard school would be closed for the rest of the year, because I wasn’t going to get the bond that is built among classmates during the senior activity week,” Garcia, 18, said from home while practicing social distancing.
Many high school seniors across the county have been emotionally devastated from the loss of a year that was supposed to be the culmination of all their hard work in the public school system.
With physical classes being called off and schools being closed in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, so too were all the special events that go along with senior year.
Not only is graduation in question, but prom, pep rallies, spring sports, senior picnics, yearbook-signing parties, grad-night events, and the like, have been cancelled.
It’s a Profound Loss, But Many Understand
Students are well-informed about the virus and why the decision was made to school close campuses across the county, state and world, Reyna said.
“I feel like most students understand the importance of why we have to stay at home due to this virus. This is the real deal. It is not an ordinary virus and staying at home is the best way to be safe,” he said.
That doesn’t make it any easier.
Reyna spoke about what he and other classmates are doing to cope with emotional tidal wave seniors are going through.
“As a community, the students on social media have a page where all the Calexico students can talk. The yearbook committee started a trend where students share their favorite memories and what they love about high school. They also remind us the importance of staying home,” he added.
The loss is equally emotional for his Bulldog basketball teammate and co-captain, 17-year-old senior Derek Lopez.
“At first when I heard about the school year being over, I was in shock. I felt so many emotions and was really sad about missing all of the graduation activities. The past four years feel like it was for nothing,” Lopez said.
“This situation sucks for everyone. For some people they are the first-generation graduating in their family, and they will not get a ceremony,” he said.
Some students have already paid for graduation week activities and fear they might not receive a refund.
Lopez said he spent $45 on a graduation cap and paid $200 toward grad night. He will not get the money back he spent on the cap and is unsure about what will happen to the money he spent on grad night.
Calexico school district officials contacted for this story said the high school is considering holding a virtual graduation ceremony, according to district spokesperson Alejandra Limon. What that entails was not immediately known.
Students Need to Be Allowed to Grieve
Haydee Rodriguez, who teaches journalism, Success 101 and is the AVID coordinator at Central Union High School, is trying to be a source of support for her students and others, sharing their social media posts and listening to them process their feelings during this time of loss.
“One of my biggest concerns is the social/emotional learning and helping kids handle the shock,” she said.
“I would hope that every adult is able to listen and be there for what our students are going through. This is not the time to tell them to cheer up. Let them process it and grieve. This is a huge loss for them,” Rodriguez said.
She recently spoke about her students’ experiences in a virtual classroom.
“I put up a post in one of my classes asking how the kids were handling this. Google classroom is overwhelming for kids. Their entire life they would walk to class, and now they are being barraged by emails and it’s hard for the kids to handle that.
“They understand why this is happening, but they are still sad. Time is one of the things that they can’t recuperate. Seniors looked forward to this year for their entire academic lives. This virus consumed us in more ways than one and their lives were affected,” Rodriguez added.
Perhaps the best thing a teacher or a parent can do is just be there for their child, and to be real.
“There is something that happens when as human beings we are powerless. I want to reach through the computer screen and tell my students we are gonna get through this, but I ask myself, are we? It is important to be authentic and be there for them,” Rodriguez said.
Pair of Athletes Try to See the Positive
Competitive swimmer and all-around achiever Abigail Hester, an 18-year-old senior at Holtville High School, is trying to look at the bright side.
“I’ve been swimming since I was 5 on the summer team, so not being able to finish my last season of swimming is hard,” she said recently, adding: “I am the FFA chapter president and president of Meadows and Magnolia 4-H; 4-H is not having meetings. In FFA, we are trying to figure out ways to do virtual meetings and posting a lot on Facebook.”
While she keeps busy from the electronic tools at her disposal, she also knows it keeps her connected to those she misses. And an added benefit to slowing down and staying home is being close to loved ones.
“I’ve been trying to stay in touch with my friends and rely on my family for support. I have been trying to keep my mind on the positive instead of negative. With this time, I have been working on scholarships for college and it’s been giving me more time to spend time with my family, which I love,” Hester said.
Central Union High School senior Janyssa Martin could be heard taking a deep breath and a bit of a pause when asked about losing her senior year.
“Losing my last year of high school softball was pretty devastating. Last year we were the CIF runner up. I wanted to come back and win CIF this year,” the 18-year-old said.
Martin has been playing softball since she was 4 years old and she earned a scholarship to play this coming fall at University of Nevada Las Vegas. Because she will play competitive softball in the future, Martin’s concerns were for her senior teammates.
“We were like sisters and we won’t get the chance to play together again. We have a text group chat on iMessage and Snapchat. We also made a funny video on TikTok about this entire situation,” she said. Since she is planning to leave to college in the fall, Martin said she appreciates the opportunity to spend time with family and, she said, she is grateful to be healthy.