TEWKSBURY/WILMINGTON — The coronavirus epidemic has swept the nation and caused the closure of Catholic churches, Disney Parks, restaurants, bars, and schools. In communities like Tewksbury and Wilmington, students and faculty are experiencing many changes to their school year.
Tewksbury and Wilmington are being closed until April 6.
One student from Tewksbury, who wishes to remain anonymous, and Sarah Cheney, a senior at Wilmington High School, offered insight on how the student life at Tewksbury Memorial High School and WHS has been impacted.
When asked how the pandemic began to affect their school communities as a student, Cheney elaborated on gossip and talk and how it, much like the virus, spreads fast.
“Word of the coronavirus reached me as a student pretty early, as it quickly became a topic of conversation in classes. We talked about the statistics of it in chem and math class because of its relevance to those subjects, and joked about it at lunch. It was when the topic crept into my chorus class that I realized just how much the talk had taken over the school.”
The student from Tewksbury had a more personal experience with COVID-19:
“The coronavirus began to affect me before I went on a February vacation trip and increased the second I got home from my trip.”
How the pandemic has affected the school communities has evolved as more restrictions and guidelines are imposed. Cheney reflected on how COVID-19 has grown before her eyes.
“The coronavirus has become more and more real. What started as a concept to us has morphed into something concerning enough to shut down school.”
The TMHS student recalled their time out of school before the state-wide shut down:
“The epidemic has only really affected me as I was forced to self-quarantine and caused me to miss lots of school work.”
In addition to lengthy school cancellations, many extracurricular events have been cancelled due to COVID-19. Cheney lists:
“Wilmington High School has cancelled Spring Fling, The WHS Talent Show, the March-A-Pella a capella show, the Culture Festival, the Pops Concert, and the April vacation trip to Europe. We have heard no word on prom, but we are worried.”
The anonymous Tewksbury student expressed concerns for the seniors:
“My senior year of track is in danger of getting cancelled due to the coronavirus.”
Events for Tewksbury that have been cancelled are the SATs hosted at the high school, out of state/international field trips, indoor town wide recreation events, and there are even talks/rumors of rescheduling junior prom.
Meanwhile, the start of spring sports have been postponed; however, there has been no word of cancellations or rescheduling of senior week, senior prom, April vacation, or senior project (where eligible seniors are able to take the fourth term off of school and pursue externships and research).
When it came to the school environment and atmosphere, the students had a lot to say.
“Discussions about coronavirus have been rampant throughout Wilmington High School. After looking at the statistics and seeing how small the risk of death is for our age group, people seemed to calm down a little bit. The day off on Thursday, March 12 came as a complete shock. The morning of March 12 was interesting for all of us. None of us have ever had a day off for anything like this, so nobody really knew what to do. Could we leave? Should we stay put and just watch the news? Can we go out for breakfast? It was a little strange,” reported Cheney.
“The (TMHS) student body is on edge. There is certainly more anxiety among them.”
Ever since the outbreak hit Italy, the coronavirus has been a big topic at TMHS, as some students and faculty had just returned from Italy, and had to undergo two days of self quarantine from school two weeks later.
The two students were asked to give their input on the situation as a whole. Cheney elaborated on her position as a senior:
“The school closures are particularly worrisome for the high school seniors. We all want to graduate on time.
“All seniors in Wilmington have either an internship or a project planned to take up the month of May instead of attending regular classes, and we do not yet know how these plans will be affected from having two weeks off.
“Another huge concern that I have, personally, is AP tests. If all school cancellations go as planned, students will miss eight hours and 24 minutes of class time for each class by the time we go back to school. This is a lot to self study, especially because we do not know if the College Board will push back the AP tests or keep them at a fixed date.”
The TMHS student shared concerns for her family;
“I believe coronavirus is certainly an issue but it is not as bad as everyone is making it sound. My biggest concern is my great grandmother as she is 95 and in a nursing home”
Both schools have used alternative methods to combat COVID-19. Wilmington has, Cheney noted, “besides school cancellations, the school has closed down several of our large events. The administration has been careful in following the guidelines suggested by the Governor of Massachusetts and the Commissioner of Education. In addition, the administration has consistently emailed students and parents with updates.”
Tewksbury has “implemented more hand sanitizers, deep cleaning, and the nurse is checking temperatures for those who traveled (to Italy).”
When asked for predictions about what schools could do to combat the virus, both students had decent ideas on how to keep schools safe.
Cheney proposed: “If I had a say in how Wilmington Schools combat the virus after the cancellations, I would work on integrating students back into school safely. There should be an emphasis on keeping things as germ-free as possible going forward. No more water fountains. In addition, I think many students will come back from this time off a little distressed from the change in schedules, and I would want that to be addressed.”
The Tewksbury student said, “I think schools should go online so students don’t miss work.”
The students were asked what they would do if they had the power to determine steps taken to combat the virus.
The TMHS student stated, “I would shut down absolutely everything and bleach it all.”
Cheney argued an opposite viewpoint:
“I am not sure I agree with the state suggestion of closing down schools. The way I see it, schools are very contained and it is possible to limit interaction between groups and classes. While I am on the fence about school cancellations, I am definitely not happy with the assumption many people are making, saying that kids are gross and never wash their hands so we should keep them apart. This is a damaging mentality. Schools are meant to teach children, so teaching them to clean their desks or properly wash their hands to stay safe should not be considered so impossible.”
Finally, a large part of influencing conversation in school environments comes from social media, such as Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.
When asked about how the internet has impacted their communities, the TMHS student said, “social media is absolutely insane. There are rumors spreading everywhere and I don’t know what to believe and what not to believe. Facebook pages (groups) are causing people more anxiety than needed.”
Cheney reflected on the fast rate that the tone towards this has shifted.
“It’s crazy how one day my social media was filled with jokes about the virus, and now is suddenly being filled with vast cancellations. It has been very helpful to get updates over the media and see a variety of opinions.”
Both Tewksbury and Wilmington education is being affected by the virus, and both school communities are bracing to see how the impact evolves.