Freshmen describe COVID-19 impact on first year of high school

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By: Julia Engebretson

This story was written by Wausau West High School student Julia Engebretson as part of the Student Journalism Program, a partnership of the Wausau Daily Herald and Wisconsin Institute for Public Policy and Service.

Picture: Wausau West High School student Julia Engebretson wrote about how the pandemic and quarantine affect the end of the school year for her and fellow freshman. Courtesy of Grace Edwards

Growing up, I watched endless high school movies. I remember wanting time to go by faster so I could experience all the thrills and glamor of high school.

Turns out, high school doesn’t involve dancing on tables and breaking into song. But freshman year had been one of my favorite parts of life. It’s a year of firsts: first homecoming, first time being in a class with students who aren’t in your grade, and (my personal favorite) first year having more than three options for lunch.

High school is the age where you start to gain responsibility and independence. Simple things like picking your electives, going to class on time and knowing your schedule are all signs of maturity. We are slowly but surely being prepared to “leave the nest.”

COVID-19 ended my freshman year early, and it altered my plans immensely. I trained in the weight room all winter in preparation for soccer season. I hadn’t played soccer and wanted to give it my best shot. (Year of firsts, right?) I was bummed about my first year of soccer being ended, and was bummed that I wouldn’t get to build bonds with my teammates.

A few of my classmates see the bright side, or at least said they realize it could be worse.

Meredith Majernik, 15, is not feeling down about her freshman year ending early because “we still have more years to go,” she said. “I think it’s really impacted the seniors, though, because it’s their last year.”

Meredith was on the Wausau West Cheer Team and is part of the YMCA gymnastics program. She had to do at-home workouts to stay in shape for both of those sports. She stayed in touch with her teammates through social media but missed the giggles while warming up or practicing for a competition. But her sister, Allie Majernik, was a senior at Wausau West this year, and Meredith realizes how much more COVID-19 has affected her sister.

Meredith stayed positive by “being outside a lot, and picking up new hobbies” such as sewing and baking, she said. She’s also one of the few who don’t mind being in quarantine.

“I don’t know, it’s kinda nice spending time with your family and not having to be at places,” she said.

Some students took advantage of the break from school.

Lindsey Lucht, 14, told me she was “trying to work out and exercise, so that when sports come around the corner I will be ready.” Lindsey enjoyed seeing her family, including her oldest sister, Natalie, who was home from her sophomore year at college.

Lindsey found online school a little harder than physical school. “It’s much easier learning at school,” she said. “You don’t have to worry about contacting your teachers, and it’s just easier to understand concepts.”

Not being able to see her friends was the most difficult part of quarantine during the school year, Lindsey said, and she was ready to give some big hugs when this whole thing is over with.

COVID-19 ended our first year of school early, and waking up every morning knowing you wouldn’t be able to see your friends every day was difficult. However, I feel the most sympathy toward the seniors. I cannot understand the sorrow they must have been feeling.

The coronavirus pandemic has taken something away from all of us, but I encourage you to stay positive.

Are you a high school student who wants to get paid to write? Learn more about this program and apply at WIPPS Student Journalism.