It’s hard to bring the pep when your senior years falls flat.
“Honestly, it’s really sad and I try not to think about it just because it is so sad,” Jackson High School senior Kylie Wilcox said.
Wilcox was supposed to play her final season of soccer; she just made varsity. She was also supposed to attend her senior prom, an event she had been planning for months as the chair of one of the biggest committees.
But she will finish the season and the rest of her senior year at home due to school closures worldwide as a result of COVID-19.
“It kind of sucks and I’m trying not to do like a pity party kind of thing because there is so much going on, but it doesn’t mean my sadness isn’t valid,” Wilcox said.
When Jackson High School closed its doors on March 13, it closed a chapter for high school seniors, one Wilcox didn’t expect to happen so soon. On what would be her last day of school, everything felt normal, until it wasn’t.
“It felt like we were just going on a weekend break, like a four-day weekend or something, and I just never expected that that last day was going to be my last day,” Wilcox said. “Even knowing it, it just felt super weird. And it’s surreal, it’s like, ‘You know, this could be my last time being an actual student. Hmm, that’s weird.’ The school year is just over and now I’m graduated. I don’t know, it’s hard.”
Based on the out-of-date “All JPS buildings and facilities are closed effective March 14 through April 5, 2020” signs posted on every window by the main entrance, there really was hope and expectations that students and staff would return to school to finish out the year. This assumption is the reason why numerous students left their school supplies in their lockers, including band students.
“It was pretty abrupt,” Jackson High School band teacher Joel Shaner said. “We were given a day for teachers to come back if we needed to, but there wasn’t a real day published for kids to come back and get stuff. Some of them took [their instruments] home because they always take their horns home, but a large number of them [didn’t].”
While already challenging enough adjusting to online school, Shaner had to adapt his lesson plans due to the large number of students without instruments, as well as the absence of face-to-face interaction.
“The biggest challenge is that we’re a class that traditionally is very active in interchange back and forth,” Shaner said. “The music course students play, I listen, I correct, they play again. It’s very interactive, and because we play both individually and as a group, we’ve of course lost the group aspect of it and we’ve lost the interactive back and forth, unless they do individual Zoom meetings, and that’s kind of what I have set up coming up in the future.”
The state-mandated closure came as a shock to senior band student AJ Dillon.
“I want to say it’s sad but I really do not know how I perceive this,” Dillon said.
For seniors like Wilcox and Dillon, final moments and events are either canceled or postponed while COVID-19 plays out, including the opportunity to play their instrument one last time.
Wilcox and Dillon have spent years mastering their instrument – Wilcox on trombone and Dillon in percussion. They were excited for the final months of school when students, particularly seniors, can really take a bow.
“In years past, they always had the seniors line up on stage and then they sing the Alma Mater while the band plays it behind them because it’s their last concert, and I was just so sad that we weren’t going to be able to do that,” Wilcox said.
For Shaner, those final months are the culmination of a year’s worth of hard work.
“A music teacher summed it up,” Shaner said. “They said, ‘The first couple months we’re getting used to each other in a band. The next couple months we’re starting to do concerts. The next couple months is a lot of stress with festival – and a lot of success with festival – and then the section of time between April and May, that’s success; that’s spring concerts, that’s trips, that festivals.’ You really look forward to that element of the year, where in music, you’re really able to participate and really have a blast with your friends.”
The curtain closed before seniors could sing the Alma Mater one last time, but with Shaner personally delivering the remaining instruments to his students, he is determined to make it happen eventually.
“It’s really going to depend on the state and the government and then our school district and how they interpret those executive orders for how and when we can start to participate again,” Shaner said. “If there’s that perfect date out there that says, ‘Hey, you can start rehearsing again,’ the first thing I’ll do is schedule a rehearsal and a concert. If that happens in June, great. If that happens in August next year, okay. Either way, we’re moving forward with that plan.”
As time passes and new COVID-19 information is released, Shaner is also figuring out if and when band camp and rookie camp will be held.
“Either way, we’ll be moving forward,” Shaner said. “I’ve done this once or twice, and I know what it means to kids. I need to move forward as if we can continue and resurrect this and make it a big part of their year, and not make it that 2020 void that’s being talked about, educationally and socially for kids.”
The worldwide pandemic created a sad ending to the school year for students, but it’s affecting parents too.
Ever since her son AJ joined the drumline in sixth grade, Kristy Dillon has been by his side. From band camp to events like Viking-A-Go-Go, parades and football games, she’s been there as his mother, but also as president of the Band Boosters and someone students can rely on.
“When I became a mom, that’s what I was most excited about,” Kristy said. “As soon as AJ was able to be in school, I joined the PTO at the school and got involved and never left. I love that AJ has stuck with [band] all these years, and then I just kind of got involved, just to make sure the kids knew that I cared about them [and] wanted to see the program stay successful.”
With her time as the unofficial “Band Mom” and photographer coming to an end, so are the little moments she’s experienced since AJ started school.
“It’s the little things sometimes that will flicker in my mind, like, I didn’t get to make his last lunch for him,” Kristy said. “I’ve made his lunch every day since kindergarten. I missed out on knowing that was the last time I was going to do that, so a lot of those types of things kind of make me sad every once in a while.”
Despite the disappointment, she’s staying positive and relishing the extra time she’s able to spend with her family.
“You want to be strong for your kid ‘cause he’s the one that’s going through a lot of it too,” Kristy said. “But, as a parent, I think it’s difficult to know that your kid wanted to have his senior year go a certain way.”
While the school year ended on a low note, Wilcox and AJ have newfound gratitude for time.
“I’m just super thankful for being at Jackson High and just having all the experiences that I did have,” Wilcox said.
“It’s kind of weird because now I have a bunch of time to spend with my family before I go off to college” AJ said. “Even though we’re stuck in the house, it’s still a little bit more time than I would have gotten.”
And there is a beacon of hope.
Jackson High School has tentatively rescheduled prom, graduation and its graduation celebration for the second weekend in August. While the celebrations will depend on the outcome of COVID-19, students and staff at Jackson High School will continue to move forward.