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Opinion: The new normal for schools just isn’t the same

2020 graduates won't get a traditional ceremony - or if they do, it won't be on time. Photo: Getty Images

This is an editorial piece. An editorial, like a news article, is based on fact but also shares opinions. The opinions expressed here are solely those of the author and are not associated with our newsroom. 

SALT LAKE CITY — Students and teachers took time to come on my KSL NewsRadio show this afternoon to reflect on the decision to extend the “soft” school closures to combat COVID-19.

We listened to high school seniors talk about online learning as a replacement for their final semester, and one thought kept running through my head:  They don’t know what they’re missing.

The new normal for schools

While home school families have this drill down, the vast majority of public school families all over the Utah have struggled mightily with the abrupt end of classroom learning. The announcement from the governor stuck a fork in senior year, and cancelled countless spring memories to come.

Educators believe learning at home is working but it is emotionally difficult. Tell that to the Class of 2020. Kelsey Nelson, a senior at Westlake high school, told Jeff Caplan’s Afternoon News: “I never thought I would have to deal with missing my graduation.”

Decades later, I still remember the parties, the senior events, and the visceral thrill of hearing my name called on that warm evening. It’s a feeling these seniors will never experience. That Graduation ceremony provides a definitive “before” and “after” but this year, it will be diminished as students cross  into the future on a laptop screen.

Jeff Caplan’s Afternoon News airs weekdays at 3 p.m. on KSL NewsRadio 

A message for seniors

Heidi Mathews, from the Utah Education Association, spoke to seniors about their disappointment:

We love you and congratulations. While right now it seems hard right now, the ceremonies and the celebrations, and the rituals, that you will have Class of 2020, will be far greater than any of us have ever had. Because none of us have graduated in a pandemic. The bonds you will have moving forward and the memories of what was really valuable about your experience in public education are going to be so important.

To put it another way? They don’t know what they’re missing.

Heidi Mathews is right. None of us has ever graduated in a pandemic, and we don’t know what it’s like.  But we can see the disappointment etched on their faces, as we try to comfort these kids with words that escape us.

But they’re strong, these kids. They’re not the first to face adversity and they won’t be the last.  Sadly, their lasting memories of their senior year will be Zoom chats and Tik Tok.  All we can do is offer them a warm shoulder and weak assurance that there are still great memories to come.

How To Prevent the Spread of COVID-19 Coronavirus

COVID-19 coronavirus is transmitted from person to person. It is a virus that is similar to the common cold and the flu. So, to prevent it from spreading:

  • Wash hands frequently and thoroughly, with soap and water, for at least 20 seconds.
  • Don’t touch your face.
  • Keep children and those with compromised immune systems away from someone who is coughing or sneezing (in this instance, at least six feet)
  • If there is an outbreak near you, practice social distancing (stay at home, instead of going to the movies, sports events, or other activities.)
  • Get a flu shot.

Local resources

KSL Coronavirus Q&A 

Utah’s Coronavirus Information 

Utah State Board of Education

Utah Hospital Association

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

Utah Coronavirus Information Line – 1-800-456-7707

National Resources

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Commonly asked questions, World Health Organization

Cases in the United States