Some Stevens graduating seniors lounge on Broad Street outside Stevens High School on their last official day of school. From left to right: Owen Taylor, 17; Braxton LeBlanc, 18; Eddie Brodeur, 18; JJ Tursky, 17; Clayton Wadsworth, 17; and Gabe Miller, 18. Not shown, Nolan Ashe, 18.

CLAREMONT — On the final school day for Stevens’s graduating Class of 2021, the landscape outside Stevens High school appeared refreshingly familiar to passerbys. Around noon graduating seniors lazed in portable chairs, some armed with water guns, behind sectioned-off areas along Broad Street. Students socialized and snacked. Some chatted and listened to music. Others played cards.

For a graduating class that was deprived of so many senior traditions, this last day of school appeared so normal and familiar that one might briefly forget the last 16 months of a global pandemic had occurred.

Though for the Class of 2021, forgetting the pandemic’s impact on their final year of K-12 education will be impossible, according to Stevens graduating seniors.

“Tough,” “different” and “compromised” were among the cohorts’s one-word descriptions of the 2020-2021 school year.

“Not having all the senior traditions like trips and everything you looked forward to experiencing when you were a freshman was difficult,” said Makayla Maccioli, 17.

The mask requirements, the safety restrictions and the periods of online instruction were among the biggest difficulties that seniors said they encountered.

“The (quarantine) rule, where you couldn’t take a day off without missing a whole week, was tough,” said Braxton LeBlanc, 18. “You couldn’t take a day if you really needed one because if you had to miss the whole week you’d fall behind in classes.”

Under district policy a student who missed a day of school for a health reason had to either stay out of school for 10 full days or produce a negative COVID test result.

Owen Taylor, 17, a student-athlete, said the “compromised” sports seasons, as well as the mask requirements, were difficult for him. Taylor played on Stevens football, basketball and baseball teams.

Students who interviewed with The Eagle Times expressed a shared disdain for the online learning periods, saying that the instruction often was harder to comprehend and poorer in quality than in-class learning.

“It just didn’t feel as heartfelt,” Maccioli said. “The teachers often wouldn’t be into it and the lessons unusually involved getting an assignment and completing it.”

Stevens students began the year in a hybrid-model in which they alternated days between learning in-person and remotely at home.

While Stevens students were allowed to fully resume in-school learning in November, the school and district frequently shifted students back to fully remote instruction when there was evidence of an outbreak or concerns of surging cases in the region.

Stevens, more so than Claremont’s other schools, had numerous short-term emergency closures this school year due to detected infections within the school.

Julia Tursky, 17, said that “uncertainty” about each school week was particularly frustrating.

“You can’t adapt to anything when you are going from being in a classroom to home and back to the classroom,” Tursky said.

An additional stressor on this graduating class was the added challenges of applying to colleges, students said, due to few campuses providing tours to prospective students until recently.

Tursky, who will be attending the University of Albany, in Albany, New York, last fall, said she strategically applied to numerous schools as a safeguard, having heard that many colleges planned to lower their acceptance numbers for the 2021-2022 academic year.

Maccioli and Tursky said that maintaining focus on their goals helped them weather this past year.

Regardless of the circumstances, Tursky said, she still needed to maintain good grades for the next phase of her journey.

Her friend Maccioli, who plans to study biology at Trinity College, in Connecticut., agreed. Maccioli said that remembering this pandemic was eventually going to pass helped her focus on the bigger picture.

“Even though COVID started doesn’t mean my dreams stop,” Maccioli said.

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