While every student will experience high school in a unique way, the collective journey is well marked. Along the way, the rituals lead to evolution and then graduation. And then, there’s a global pandemic. The well-marked path is unrecognizable. It’s vital to recognize loss in the face of challenges. As a collective, incoming ninth-graders and seniors are experiencing the greatest loss. After acknowledging loss, it’s crucial to develop new routines and rituals to be successful. The story of loss is essential. More important is the opportunity of reinvention.
For ninth-graders, the first quarter of high school is pivotal. In a normal year at Ukiah High School, our transition work begins in the spring and ends in August with a program we call Summer Academy. Summer Academy is a two-week program exclusively for incoming ninth graders. They have our full attention, learn about one another, the layout of the school, the college journey, and how career technical classes are critical for all students. We take college field trips. On the first day of school, we welcome these well prepared ninth graders. During the first quarter, these students continue to learn who we are as we learn more about who they are. In October, the newly minted Wildcats experience their first Homecoming. The transition is complete. They are truly Ukiah High School students. In this pandemic, this didn’t happen.
The senior year of high school is a blur of rituals, from senior sunrise to senior portraits, college applications, Homecoming, games, performances, senior projects, and on to graduation. These steps are taken together on our campus. Social circles grow larger over four years. The common experiences magnify the joy of moments. Working in common also provides care and comfort. Vulnerable moments are less lonely. Through it all, a senior class has a remarkable influence on the entire school. Collective leadership is a powerful force. By October, the senior class has experienced their final Homecoming. Win the Spirit Bell, or not, the seniors are fully aware that this should be a year of farewells. In this pandemic, this isn’t happening.
As a school and a community, we need to acknowledge the loss these groups, and all students, are experiencing. In this pandemic, this is necessary. It is compassionate. It teaches our children how to confront challenges. And then, we need to teach them how we respond with resilience.
Part of the plan at Ukiah High School is joining our bookends - the seniors and freshmen. This plan involves having seniors create videos that express thoughts on what a “normal” fall is on our campus. These will go beyond what we are missing. Our seniors will set the stage for ninth grade advisory classes to examine our school culture and why we do what we do. Equally important is the opportunity for seniors to invite freshmen to join in activities and contests that allow us to learn about who they are. Having seniors make this effort is not usually part of a high school culture. Classes move from one level to the next; it is experience-based. This year is different. Our seniors need to let our newest family members know they are valued - here and now.
The other part of the plan involves honoring seniors early and often. Ordinarily, this begins in May and concludes with graduation. We cannot wait for the rituals of spring to bring this class together and recognize their achievement. The remarkable stories they have to share after eighteen short years of life, or twelve long years in school, inspire hope. As classmates, they need to see and know one another. As a community and nation, we need the energy derived from their hope. Get ready. Spring is coming early for the Ukiah High School Class of 2021.