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Abrupt 'Coronacation' leaves area students with questions


March 18, 2020 | View PDF

Katie Rowley

Niwot High's parking lot was mostly empty on Monday, March 16.

A bonus week of Spring Break sounds like a dream come true for students, but, at Niwot High School, reaction to the St. Vrain Valley School District's decision to cancel classes in the wake of COVID-19 has been decidedly mixed. With milestone events and the spring athletic season now in jeopardy, the drastic disruption of the spring semester has caused almost as much anxiety as the virus that prompted it.

"I think there are a lot of people filled with fear, because nobody really knows what's going to happen," Niwot Student Council co-president Nick Valin said. "There are also a lot of people who recognize the seriousness of the situation, and that maybe it's not a good sign when a ton of districts close as the result of a global pandemic... I think a lot of people are just hoping for the best and hoping for good health for themselves, their families, and all of their friends."

The two-week closure started on March 13, and will last at least through March 27, the final day of the SVVSD's official Spring Break. Classes are slated to resume as normal on Monday, March 30, but there is a strong possibility that the closure will be extended into April or possibly further, as conditions warrant. However, there is no firm timetable for when that decision will be made. From March 16 through 20, students who need breakfast or lunch can pick up a food basket provided by the school district, between 11 a.m. and 12:30 p.m. at local schools.

Meanwhile, a number of long-awaited high school events and competitions have already been cancelled or postponed, including the state mock trial tournament, spring orchestra and jazz band concerts, and the First Robotics Colorado regional. The Colorado High School Activities Association has also suspended the spring sports season until April 6, resulting in numerous game and tournament cancellations.

As of now, it's unclear whether any of these will be rescheduled. If the shutdown continues, upcoming events such as prom, state athletic championships, and graduation are also subject to change, a thought that is especially worrisome to Valin and his fellow seniors.

"I think that it's the uncertainty, especially, that's bumming people out," he said. "There's not anything specific for anyone to look forward to, because they just don't know. If people knew when sports were going to start up again, or anything, really, there'd be a light at the end of the tunnel. But right now, it's a dark tunnel, and no one really knows what's happening."

Also causing uncertainty for students is the looming specter of "online learning," which will be implemented if schools are closed more than two weeks. At a media briefing with Boulder Valley Schools superintendent Rob Anderson and county health department officials on March 13, SVVSD superintendent Don Haddad said the district's technology department is well-prepared in the event of a transition to internet-based classrooms.

"I recall back in 2009, when we went through the H1N1 situation, and then the fires...and then we had the flood in 2013, and my point for raising all of these is that we have an extensive plan that has been developed in the St. Vrain Valley Schools. It has been in place for many years. We review it regularly, and update it each and every year....And we have paid close attention to the safety, health, and wellbeing of our students, our teachers, our staff, and our community. That's always been our priority."

Niwot High Principal Eric Rauschkolb agreed with Dr. Haddad's assessment, and added that the teachers and staff at his school are ready for online learning.

"Niwot High School is pretty well equipped to begin this uncharted journey," he said in a phone interview. "Our teachers are better prepared than most to go to a model like this. Because not only do we have one-on-one devices, but every teacher at our school uses Schoology, which is the platform that we're using for the online instruction. Having said that, there will be some hiccups, I'm sure, that we never anticipated. But our staff is very flexible, and accommodating, and student-centered, so we're going to make sure that we give our students our best, using the tools at our disposal."

Still, Valin and other seniors are concerned about what the new dynamic might mean for their end-of-year testing and other long-term academic endeavors, which are nearing culmination after four long years.

"If we do have to move to online learning, I hope it will prepare us for either the AP tests that we're going to have to take, or the IB tests-that we're learning the stuff that's in our curriculum," Valin said.

As for that other senior milestone, college admission, Niwot High counselor Kelly Christensen said that, at this stage of the game, seniors probably won't be affected much by widespread closure of campuses across the country. "I think that it affects more of our alumni who are being sent home."

As of press time, his department hasn't heard about any delays in notifications, so applicants who are still waiting to hear yea or nay from their institution of choice don't have to do anything differently.

That's not the case for 11th-graders, who could face some unexpected hurdles in their upcoming college search efforts, according to Christensen.

"It's affecting a lot of juniors who had made plans for spring break and even into June to get out to these campuses and check them out," he said. "We always encourage them to get out to one or two before summer hits, so that they can see the campus as it's alive, and see what it's like for a day in the life of a student there. Now, there's definitely a lot of unknown. We have no idea where this is going to lead, but it doesn't look good."

The closure could also affect the juniors' upcoming SAT test, scheduled for April 14, but the district is awaiting additional guidance from the College Board before deciding on a course of action.

As for what is expected of students during the break and perhaps beyond, both Rauschkolb and Christensen said it was important to keep lines of communication open, both with teachers and coaches, as well as friends. They urged students to follow social health protocols, but also to "get outside" and "stay active" to help combat the effects of isolation. Valin said that Niwot's student council is exploring ways to remotely support students and boost school spirit if classes go online.

"I think right now that it's important that we promote that community feeling, and the whole togetherness idea, because everyone's quarantined in their own homes and separated, so it's important for people to still have community and that student body surrounding them."

For now, Valin is adjusting to a world where his final weeks of high school might take place behind a screen.

"It's the second semester of my senior year, and, although it sounds great to have a bunch of school off, I would prefer to be in school, hanging out with my friends, and enjoying my last semester, instead of worrying about the virus and who I'm around and who I'm with."


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