Graduating Students Reconsider Fifth Year of High School Due to COVID-19

Photo by Mountain View Studio

When the Ontario provincial government announced that all public schools in the province would be closed for two weeks following the March break, many students were expecting to return to school after their three weeks off. The March 23 announcement that the closure would extend beyond the presumed date of April 6 hit teachers and students very hard, especially grade 12 students who feel like they have been robbed of their senior year.

People and events across the globe have been greatly impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. This includes concerts, festivals, sporting events, and the 2020 Olympic games being either cancelled or postponed.

One of the largest things affecting students is the rest of their senior year being moved online. Prom, graduation, the spring sports season, school productions, musical performances, just a few events that many students have been waiting for their whole lives, have been cancelled, that is unless they take a fifth year of high school.

Avery F, a grade 12 student who is planning on graduating and attending post-secondary school in the fall this year, had this to say about her current situation: “This all feels so surreal still. It doesn’t feel right ending 12 years of school like this. If the first year of university in the fall will continue to be online classes, then I may as well just stay a fifth year [in high school].”

Avery F and Annabell D at 2019 ACF
Avery F and Annabell D performing at Arts and Culture Festival, 2019. Photo by Katy F.

Avery has been an active member of the community, being part of the KW Predators volleyball team, and she is also involved in many of the productions at WCI, including the dance team and the Arts and Culture Festival. Her volleyball season was terminated and so were her dance competitions due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Although she was planning to attend Wilfrid Laurier University in the fall, she is now considering a fifth year in hopes that the pandemic will be over by the end of summer so she can have a proper end to her volleyball and dance career.

Numerous other grade 12 students have spoken up about the situation as well. Jackson M is one of those grade 12 students. He expressed his feelings about potentially taking a fifth year: “I was originally planning on going to Laurier or the University of Guelph in the fall, but this would have been my last year of rugby with the boys. Most of the guys are now thinking about a fifth year too so we can all have the final season we deserve together.”

Jett S, Carson A, Jackson M, and James R who are now all planning on taking a fifth year. Photo by Leanne A.

WCI’s Co-Mayor, Darci M, said in an interview that took place immediately following WRDSB’s update on the cancellation of year-end events: “I was very heartbroken when I heard the news about prom and graduation and that all other events have been cancelled till the end of June. I was really looking forward to going to prom with my best friends. I’m not sure how long social-distancing will last, but if taking a fifth year gives me a chance to go to those end of year events one last time, then I might just have to.”

Marcela B, a starting player for the WCI’s Sr. Girls Volleyball team who is also in grade 12, had some words of her own regarding athletics: “Sports have been one of my biggest highlights in high school. I can’t imagine what school would be like if we didn’t have such an amazing athletic program. I feel so lucky that we got the chance to go to OFSAA this year for volleyball and even placed silver! We heard the news of school closing along with all other events for the next few weeks just the day after we came back from OFSAA so that was a very close call.”

She went on to say, “I was even planning on joining the Ultimate Frisbee team this year for the first time. I’m also devastated about the rest of the school year events being cancelled. The Athletic Banquet is something I look forward to every single year, and I can’t believe we won’t be getting one this year. I am now really considering taking a fifth year even if it means we have a better chance of getting to do all the things we are missing now.”

Geetanjali S is a highly involved grade 12 student in the WCI Arts community. She has been part of the past three Arts and Culture Festivals and has been in almost every school spirit assembly dance doing Bollywood and hip-hop style dances. When asked about cancelled events, Geetanjali said, “I still can’t believe this is all happening. It feels like a bad dream. Everyone has put in so much time and hard work into the Arts and Cultural Festival, just to have it cancelled. No one really saw any of this coming. It’s very disappointing that I won’t be able to perform in my fourth and last show.”

As for her plans for next year, Geetanjali is also reconsidering going to university. She shared, “I have recently been thinking about taking a fifth year, but not just because of dance. I was planning to attend the University of Waterloo this fall and study psychology there.” She does not want her first year in university to be spent online: “Your first year of University is supposed to be one of the best years of your life. […]  At this point, no one really knows how long this pandemic will last for. I would rather take a fifth year [in high school that’s] online than have my first year of university online.”

Geetanjali and her Bollywood dance crew at Arts and Culture Festival, 2019. Photo by Mr. Bishop.

Samuel D has been part of the WCI community for only two years. He came to Waterloo from his home country, Brazil, at the start of grade 11 and quickly adapted to his new life here. In the summer of 2019, Samuel went back to Brazil at the time not knowing if he would come back to WCI for grade 12. The following September, Samuel decided to come back to WCI to finish high school. Unlike most WCI students who are now at home in Waterloo, Samuel is now back home in Brazil with his family. He said, “I chose to come back [to Brazil]. I didn’t have to, but it was a good decision because I get to spend time with my family in my own house which is pretty awesome. I also really miss all the close friends I have in Canada that I consider a second family, so I can’t wait till this situation is over so I can come back and see them.”

Samuel taking a fifth year would be a little more complicated for him than for others. He would have to leave his family in Brazil again to move back to Canada for one more year. When asked if make this move, he said, “I am very upset. This is definitely not how I imagined my senior year ending. I just found out our prom and graduation have been officially cancelled, and it destroyed my day. One of the big reasons why I came back to Canada for grade 12 was prom and graduation. This situation took those away from me. I wasn’t considering a fifth year being an option before, but now I’m starting to think about it and balance my options to make the right decision for myself. This is definitely not how all of us dreamed our last year to be like.”

Although many students are considering a fifth year, Matthew D is a grade 12 student who has been accepted at the University of Calgary next year, and he plans on moving there in the fall. “The school closures are not as bad for me as they might be for some other people. I notice a very minimal change in the amount of content I’m learning, and it allows me to have more time in my day. There’s no doubt that I miss the social aspect of school, but this closure allows me to have more time to work on other skills and independently learn things that are not part of the school curriculum.”

Matthew went on to say, “I’m not really missing any spring extracurricular activities since I was just part of the DECA team but that had already ended.” When asked if he would consider taking a fifth year, he explained, “I 100% am extremely disappointed in the outcome of no prom and no graduation ceremony. I’ve been looking forward to both of those things since I first stepped into WCI as a Grade 9. Although these are very difficult things to miss out on, I believe continuing on into post-secondary education is far more beneficial to me for my future. It’ll allow me to enter my field of work a year earlier, and I don’t believe high school has many courses left that I would still benefit from.”

Matthew D and Srihari H at DECA Provincials, 2019. Photo by Shawn S.

These are very unfortunate times for these seniors as there is a chance they won’t be able to experience many things they had been looking forward to this year. For many students taking a fifth year might be their only option left to have their “grade 12 year” back, that is if schools will reopen in time for the start of the new school year in September 2020.