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'Being able to go back in person is a win': TPS seniors talk about returning to class for their final days

'Being able to go back in person is a win': TPS seniors talk about returning to class for their final days

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This was not the senior year Tucker Falling originally expected.

No back-to-school retreat weekend with his classmates.

No late-night construction sessions for the class homecoming float.

Not knowing whether he would see those classmates in person again to say goodbye when they graduate this spring.

“After being denied all these things, being able to go back in person is a win,” the Edison senior said. “I’m happy to just have the opportunity to go back.”

Thursday was the first day of in-person classes in almost a year for seniors across Tulsa Public Schools. For Falling and his classmate Jameson White, it was a welcome sight.

Although both have had some in-person interactions with other students through basketball and pom, respectively, those activities have not completely made up for running into classmates in the hall during the day.

“It hasn’t been the same,” White said. “It’s hard to find motivation in your house.”

That sentiment was not limited to Edison’s seniors. India Jones is a senior at Booker T. Washington and while grateful for the efforts her teachers have made while in distance learning, she said this was not what she had in mind for her last year of high school.

“I don’t feel like I got a senior year,” Jones said. “All the special things, experiences — I didn’t get.”

Even with distance learning keeping the students largely off campus, senior class sponsors have been trying to adjust plans in order to give their students a small slice of normalcy.

Sommer Baker is the sponsor for Memorial High School’s senior class. To make sure her students have access to the same information as their predecessors, she has hosted regular forums via Zoom for seniors with information on ordering caps and gowns, as well as guest speakers from area universities, trade schools and military recruiting offices.

Along with text messages and weekly emails, she also set up a separate Canvas page to host those Zoom recordings, as well as links to other senior-specific resources, such as the FAFSA.

“There is just so much that normally goes on during senior year that I didn’t want anyone to miss anything,” she said.

“This is someone’s child. When they graduate in May, they still have to have a plan for their lives. The more recruiters and information I can get in front of them, the more they’ll have in their toolbox to make a plan for when they graduate.”

Elizabeth Noordyke is Baker’s counterpart at McLain High School. She has also had to adjust communication efforts while the students were in distance learning and acknowledged that many of her seniors have had to take on additional responsibilities during the pandemic, making it even more challenging to keep them in the loop. She said she is hopeful that being able to see the seniors in person will help make that a little easier.

“Many of our kids have gotten jobs or even multiple jobs,” she said. “A lot of them are going to Tulsa Tech or TCC or they’re working with their families. They have a tremendous amount of responsibility in their lives. When they didn’t have to be at school eight hours a day, those responsibilities didn’t go away — they just got bigger. Even sending messages out through Canvas was difficult because I know a lot of them didn’t see them.”

One of the students who regularly saw those messages and helped reach out to classmates was On’hay Phillips, the president of McLain’s senior class.

Even with the communication difficulties while in distance learning, she and other class officers started making plans during the fall semester to make as many of the Titans’ senior staples as possible happen one way or another this spring. Although it is still unclear whether prom will happen, there will still be class shirts, Senior Week events and an outdoor graduation ceremony at Melvin Driver Stadium.

“We’re not going to miss out on anything,” she said. “Most of our traditions are around this time of year anyway.”

Their counterparts at Edison will still experience some of those senior traditions as well. The school’s parent-teacher association hosted a socially distanced sunrise breakfast and is attempting to find an outdoor venue to accommodate a sunset dinner at the end of the school year. A prom venue has been booked with enough space to allow for social distancing while maintaining half-capacity. Their graduation ceremony is slated for LaFortune Stadium and plans are in place to have a post-graduation lock-in event at Incredible Pizza.

“Last year’s seniors got to do everything up to March,” Edison parent Diane White said. “Our kids haven’t gotten to do almost anything up to March, so we want to at least have the last quarter traditions as much as possible.”

Meanwhile, Jones will be staying in distance learning due to her family’s concerns about the virus. She is not happy at the prospect of not getting to finish out her high school career on campus, but said she is grateful for the opportunities she got to have prior to the pandemic.

“It’s been difficult, but it is my last year, so I don’t have to deal with this again,” she said. “I feel so bad for the other grades, especially the freshmen. This is their first year and this is what they get.

“At least I got three years of high school.”

Video: Tulsa-area teacher get their COVID-19 vaccines

Tulsa teachers get their vaccines by the Tulsa Health Department at the Tulsa Expo center. STEPHEN PINGRY/ Tulsa World

“After being denied all these things, being able to go back in person is a win. I’m happy to just have the opportunity to go back.”

-- Tucker Falling, Edison senior


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My primary beat is public education. I am a third-generation graduate of Oklahoma State University, a board member for Oklahoma SPJ and an active member of the Native American Journalists Association.

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