Whatever happened to Sonnie and Sarah?
From March through May last year, the Tulsa World shared life for the two teenage sisters in Owasso in a daily photo essay done by their mother, former Tulsa World Staff Photographer Brandi Simons.
In 161 photographs, Simons tried to document what coronavirus turned life into for her daughters. For them, life as they knew it was canceled. Those photos also helped Simons find some purpose and helped demonstrate to her photography students at Tulsa Tech that a camera can give a person a purpose.
The online gallery of photos ended up being one of the most popular on tulsaworld.com in 2020.
As the fall semester began in 2020, both Sonnie and Sarah started school virtually at Owasso. Although tables and desks were available in the house, Sonnie, a senior, and Sarah, a freshman, each picked their beds as their workplace of choice. As COVID-19 cases eased, they went back to school in-person on Sept. 17. That was six months to the day that Simons had started to document the girls at home for the series.
Sarah went on to earn a spot on the varsity pom squad after months of practice at home. The sisters participated in the school’s first-ever virtual pep rally with everyone from the homecoming court to the band to the cheer and pom squads. Sonnie ended up winning homecoming queen and due to the spike in virus cases, instead of having a football player escort her, she picked Sarah.
Then Owasso went back to virtual learning before the holiday break.
For the spring semester, where they had the option to either stay home or be in school, the sisters had to make some tough decisions.
Sonnie is staying virtual to give her the best chance to play tennis her senior year, which was canceled her junior year. Sarah is going to attend school in person.
“It’s sad,” Simons said looking at what has happened since school started. “I hope this generation doesn’t lose its drive. There is a lot of the ‘why bother’ attitude. There are no more tears. Disappointing news of something being canceled is almost weekly.”
She said she’s glad she has the collection of photos to have a time capsule that shows what life was like during this point in history, from the driveway chats socially distanced to temperature checks before entering school.
“We were going through what everyone was going through,” Simons said. “The photos were good therapy for me. Some people said their kids would have never let them photograph them while they cried. It never dawned on me. I didn’t ask but they are used to cameras being around.”
Simons said she knows so many have dealt with loss and horrific circumstances in the past year. Luckily, her family has stayed healthy and she is grateful for something that does come through in the photographs.
“They spent so much time together,” she said. “They wouldn’t have if this didn’t happen. I think their relationship has grown.”