Nov. 9, 2020 | After-school support program

FILE — Seniors socially distance as they study remotely on campus for an after-school support program Monday, Nov. 9, 2020, at Sunnyside High School in Sunnyside, Wash.

Senior year — the long-awaited year of milestones and many “lasts.”

Students across the nation, state and county have had to wait even longer for the real beginning of their school year. Many experienced their “last first day” virtually. These same students are among those who have experienced feelings of doubt, hopelessness and lack of motivation.

As if the senioritis was not enough.

As seniors at Sunnyside High School expressed their desire for a taste of normalcy, staff members in the district worked tirelessly to create a plan to give these students as much normalcy as possible. Seniors who wished to return were able to attend school for the first time starting Feb. 1, while the remainder of students continued to attend classes from home.

This was achieved by assigning each senior to a classroom of no more than eight students. The students were able to request who they wanted in their classrooms, with the intention that this would help increase attendance and willingness to participate.

Each student then attends their Zoom classes from inside their assigned classroom. However, there are some classes that students are able to attend in person with social distancing measures and masks, such as yoga.

This plan was designed to give students some sort of routine, normalcy and social interaction, with the hope of improving not only graduation preparedness but also the mental health of students and staff.

A key contributor to the return of the seniors at SHS has been Principal Ryan Maxwell

“It is exciting seeing faces and hearing the buzz of students being in the building,” he said.

The biggest motivation for getting seniors back in school was “for seniors to be able to experience a senior year” and “to provide structure for the seniors that are not on track to graduate.”

Maxwell explained that the return to the classrooms has had a positive effect on both grade trends and staff.

“Staff with seniors have been reconnected with their purpose,” he said. “Without students in the building, it was easy to lose focus on what is important.”

Sunnyside School District Superintendent Kevin McKay expressed his gratitude for the patience and understanding of families and community members.

“I praise the staff, students, coaches and administration across the district for their ability to adapt,” he said.

Olivia Puente is a senior at Sunnyside High School.