As we have noted in other articles, the senior class of 2020 is facing an entirely new set of circumstances in the wake of the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic. While continuing their education through distance learning, they are also now virtually completing the college application process and facing the loss of Decision Day, graduation, senior sendoff, and a postponed prom. We recently caught up with Jada Park, a TSCS senior who won an award in 2015 as co-writer of the middle school’s Imagination Destination team play about a young Mavis Staples becoming agoraphobic because of race riots in Memphis. Today, she is Howard University-bound and plans to study psychology and then attend graduate school to earn her Master’s Degree in public health or mental health counseling. It appears to us from her (unedited) comments below, she already has a head start.

TSCS: According to the CAST office counselors, you are doing exceptionally well at distance learning. Can you tell me what special things you are doing to be so effective? Have you set a routine, home office, schedule?

JP: I do not consider what I do special, but it does help me stay focused and on track towards completing my assignments on time. The most important thing I’ve done since the beginning of distance learning is prioritize my advanced placement classes. I had to make the decision of placing my other classes on the back burner being that my AP classes were still going to be tested and I need to be fully focused on continuing to prepare for those exams. That being said, I had to create a schedule for myself. Fortunately, I only have two AP classes, Latin and Literature, so I don’t have too much of a full plate. On Mondays and Wednesdays, I spend about an hour of my afternoon in either one or both of those classes getting extra help or discussing material from assignments given the previous day or days. For these meetings, I migrate to my dad’s office so that I don’t feel confined in my room and as a reason to actually be in there.

Throughout all of this, Mrs. Thomas has inspired me to continue working hard through her constant words of encouragement. She’s reassured me that my hard work is eventually going to reap a plethora of rewards and opportunities, so that motivates me to keep pushing.

Two quotes that keep me moving during this time are “veni, vidi, vici (I came, I saw, I conquered)” by Julius Caesar and “I never been the type to roll over and pout when things didn’t go my way. I’ve always been a fighter. I need you to be a fighter” by my grandma.  

However, some days I do stay in my room for the sake of feeling comfortable. After those meetings, I take a 30-minute break to eat something or relax and then start some assignments related to college – calculating the total money given in awards or applying to scholarships. Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Fridays are used as workdays for my two classes. It’s extremely helpful that my teachers scatter the due dates for their assignments because it helps me remain organized and more likely to do the work. Saturdays and Sundays are used as rest days and then I repeat my routine again for the following week.

TSCS: What have been some of the biggest challenges so far with distance learning and how have you overcome them?

JP: The biggest challenge I’ve faced with distance learning is staying motivated. Being in the comfort of my home while learning is a blessing and a curse. It’s a blessing being that I can complete my work at my own pace and eat, take breaks, and nap whenever I want to. However, it’s a curse because some days I wake up and remember that I’ll never be learning in a high school environment ever again. I’ll never get to see any of my lower class buddies ever again. I’ll never see past and current teachers ever again. I’ll never get to experience some of the Soulsville senior traditions that I’d been wanting to experience since the 6th grade. The next time I enter a learning environment, it’ll be for college. Thinking about those things cause me to feel extremely unmotivated and causes me to ponder if I should just give up. To overcome these thoughts and feel motivated again, I try to remember the advantages of this situation. Some of those advantages include being able to get a higher score on my AP exams, receiving higher credit in my classes, feeling less stress and pressure from not being in the traditional classroom, and more one on one check-ins with teachers. In addition, words of encouragement from teachers and family members also help me overcome my negative thoughts and find motivation to get stuff done. Two quotes that keep me moving during this time are “veni, vidi, vici (I came, I saw, I conquered)” by Julius Caesar and “I never been the type to roll over and pout when things didn’t go my way. I’ve always been a fighter. I need you to be a fighter” by my grandma.  

TSCS: How have the CAST staff and your other teachers helped and inspired you through all this?

JP: The CAST staff and my other teachers have been extremely helpful and active throughout this entire situation. The CAST staff, specifically, have been very active in helping me make my post-secondary decision. My CAST counselor, Mrs. Amber Thomas, calls me once or twice a week to break down my financial aid awards for colleges and to talk about my thoughts and feelings on everything that’s been happening. Throughout all of this, Mrs. Thomas has inspired me to continue working hard through her constant words of encouragement. She’s reassured me that my hard work is eventually going to reap a plethora of rewards and opportunities, so that motivates me to keep pushing. Overall, Mrs. Thomas has been a great support system and the same can be said about my other teachers. My other teachers have taken the initiative to reach out to us to get updates on our lives and feelings and to also give us motivation. My advisory teacher, Mrs. Staci Johnson, even started hosting video calls so that we could see each other and just talk. Little actions like taking the time out of your day to check up on your students just show the dedication and empathy that teachers have for their students and I couldn’t be more appreciative. Their actions inspire me to remain motivated and optimistic since they are still rooting for my safety and success from a distance. 

The biggest lesson I’ve learned from the COVID-19 crisis is to not take ANYTHING for granted. This virus has resulted in me being more appreciative of my life, family, friends, and the environment because it can all be taken away from me in a split second.

TSCS: How are you navigating the college process at this point? What extra kinds of things has COVID-19 required you to do?

JP: The college process for me hasn’t changed since being out of school. I still meet with my counselor once or twice a week and she gives me the same amount of pressure to get things done independently as she did when we were in school. So, I honestly do not have to do anything extra since she’s established a sense of independence and responsibility in me. When I meet with her, we talk about my financial aid awards and then she gives me a couple of tasks that need to be completed by the next time we meet. If I need help, I can always come to her, but after our meeting ends, it’s on me to get stuff done. Frankly, that’s the best thing about the CAST staff. They don’t hold your hand through the college process, but instead teach you what you need to know and guide you through the process. For example, they taught us how to make professional calls to colleges and required us to make the calls ourselves. They explained to us what needed to be asked or said and put the responsibility on us to make the call. If we messed up during the call, they guided us through what needed to be said, but never grabbed the phone to speak on our behalf unless they needed to. As a result, I don’t have a fancy, new routine that I follow for the college process since being at home. I already know what’s expected of me. It’s just the matter of getting it done. 

TSCS: What are the main lessons you have learned from the COVID crisis, school closing, distance learning, and quarantine?

JP: The biggest lesson I’ve learned from the COVID-19 crisis is to not take ANYTHING for granted. This virus has resulted in me being more appreciative of my life, family, friends, and the environment because it can all be taken away from me in a split second. Being confined in a room 24/7 with little to no interactions with the outside world and plenty of time to think showed me that I needed to make some changes once this crisis is over. It’s shown me that I needed to communicate with more family members, that I needed to go outside more, that I needed to spend more time with my family and friends, and so much more. This virus has proven to be a wake up call for all of us and once it’s over, I would hope that we all will make the changes that we’ve procrastinated to make before this all happened.