‘Don’t take anything for granted’: NB grads reflect on high school experience during the pandemic

As exams wind down, dresses and suits go from closets to bedrooms and school hallways become quiet. Some students are reflecting back on another turbulent school year in New Brunswick – the third one interrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Charisma Farrell, Haley Wilson and Gavin Calder are graduating next week from Nackawic High School, and nothing about their high school experience was normal.

“At first, they said two weeks, so I was like ‘Oh, I can do that for two weeks. Not school? That’s great! It’s like an extra march break!’ And then, it kind of kept going,” said Farrell.

The three were asked during an interview with CTV Atlantic to take a look back at the beginning of the pandemic.

“I remember thinking it was like a joke,” said Wilson. “Kind of, at first, and then after a month or so of being home in 2020 I was like ‘OK, so this is kind of dragging on now…’”

They were in Grade 10 when COVID-19 shuttered their school for the remainder of the 2019-2020 school year.

In Grade 11, they returned, but only every other day. They learned from home the other half of the time.

In Grade 12, another lockdown extended their Christmas break, and they spent the rest of January learning online.

For Farrell, she had to coordinate with her siblings on when they would use the internet. If they were all using it at once, it was too slow, she said. Getting to class took on new meaning, where you could be wrapped up in a blanket in your bedroom.

“There were times when we would be on Teams meetings and people would just like, randomly leave – and the teacher would be like ‘Where did they go?’” said Wilson. “Then they would message and be like ‘I just can’t – my internet!’”

When they were in school, they wore masks, unless they were eating. They had to remain physically distant in certain areas and extracurricular activities were on-again, off-again – it was hard to keep track.

“I remember coming back to school and, because we were day-on, day-off the year before, there was like, a whole half of grade nines that we hadn’t seen before, and then new students that were on the opposite day,” Wilson said. “So it was kind of like ‘Whoa. Quien eres?'”

They weren’t allowed to play sports at first. When they were allowed, there was no spectators, or travel. But they would sporadically be postponed or cancelled, after an outbreak or someone on the team came down with the virus.

“It was kind of like a kick in the shins, missing out on the sports. It just really hurt through the years because my Grade 11 year, I play basketball, it’s like, my sport, and we missed out on the whole season pretty much,” said Calder.

It all may sound trivial to some, but the three students experienced very few classic high school traditions. Instead, they had to learn how distant they needed to remain from grandparents, or why only one parent could go to the grocery store.

“I think it’s hard sometimes for adults to understand how it feels to us, because they already got high school,” said Farrell. “So I think sometimes it’s easy for them to say ‘Kids are adaptable.’ And yeah, we got through it and we’re better, I guess, for it, and stronger. But we still missed out on stuff.”

But they’re also choosing to look forward, having learned something they didn’t find in a math class.

“Don’t take anything for granted – even those social activities, or just hanging out with your friends, or even having the fans at your sporting events. Because playing a basketball game in any empty gym.. it really sucks,” laughs Wilson, adding she might keep her masks to show her grandchildren someday.

“It did suck! alot There’s no getting around it, it was awful. But, yeah, we all got through it together and we came out on the other side,” said Farrell.

“For my grandkids, I’d tell them: Participate in everything. Like, if there’s a school dance, go to it,” said Calder.

He took his own advice – signing up for the school choir this year, and every sport he could fit into his schedule.

Nackawic High School’s prom is on June 21 and graduation June 23 – and you won’t find a group of graduates more excited.

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