The plan for the 2020-2021 school year remains in limbo as the Texas Education Agency released new scenarios explaining guidelines for how school districts should reopen in the fall.
“There’s no playbook, in advance, that you can put together to address a worldwide pandemic,” Superintendent Dr. Rick McDaniel said. “When these things occur, you make the best decisions you can based upon the data and what the science tells you to do.”
On April 17, Governor Greg Abbott ordered all Texas schools to close down for the remainder of the 2019-2020 school year because of the global pandemic, COVID-19.
“Once I saw that there were cases around us, it became obvious to me that I didn’t really need to wait for the government to shut us down,” Dr. McDaniel said. “I just decided that it was in our best interest to do so because I didn’t want our students or faculty catching the virus.”
Beginning March 16, the school district implemented Grab & Go breakfasts and lunches at elementary schools for any student 18 and under. Dr. McDaniel said that the district also gave out around 3,570 free laptops to students before starting online learning.
“One-third of the students in McKinney ISD are economically disadvantaged, meaning there’s a lot of homes out there that do not have computer access, nor do they have a computer in the household,” Dr. McDaniel said. “But we put together a plan really quickly so that we could get computers out to as many as we could.”
Switching to distance learning required elementary and middle school teachers to familiarize themselves with online learning platforms Canvas and SeeSaw. Media resource specialist Kristen Spain worked with teachers to help them transition into online learning.
“My role has been just supporting teachers with Canvas or technology questions,” Ms. Spain said. “We’ve also switched all of our library books online so students can check out books online.”
Behind the scenes, administrators coordinated with teachers and central office faculty to work out kinks in online learning and field questions from parents and students.
“Before the pandemic, I had probably only ever been in five Zoom calls my whole life,” Principal Alan Arbabi said. “After school was canceled, I started participating in about 30-40 Zoom calls a week.”
Online learning commenced for students on March 30. Sophomore Nik Parker said the transition was rocky for him.
“Classes like Algebra are even more challenging online,” Nik said. “You can’t really get one-on-one help anymore.”
Senior Valerie Landis said learning through a computer screen is a true test of students’ personal commitment to learning and perseverance.
“I didn’t have a lot of motivation to do any work because it was online,” Valerie said. “There was nobody physically there forcing me to get my work done.”
Senior Thomas Moses said online learning has better prepared him for college.
“It taught me that I need to be more disciplined,” Thomas said. “It was hard to focus down to actually get my work done efficiently online.”
On top of her schoolwork, senior Kaylin Stovall has been working more than 30 hours a week as an employee at Whataburger.
“I am grateful that I still am employed and have a place to work,” Kaylin said. “But it gets really repetitive going from work and home everyday and trying to balance studying for AP exams and finish my homework.”
On April 22 the school district announced that students’ third quarter grades would also become their fourth quarter grade upon satisfactory completion of online work. However, AP students still had to prepare for their exams in mid-May.
“It was scary studying for my AP Human Geography test because I did my work and then worked on my review book, but I worried if it was going to be enough,” freshman Ruby Allen said. “I kept asking myself, ‘Do I understand this enough? Am I doing enough?’”
Instead of in-person exams, the College Board switched their AP exams to 50-minute free response questions that could be taken on a computer, tablet or cellphone.
“I have a lot of really great teachers that have been preparing me for the tests so I got a lot of resources as soon as the online tests were announced,” junior Gemma Bryant said. “I feel like I was pretty much as prepared as I could be.”
AP teachers faced pressure to get their students prepared for the tests without being able to physically be there. AP Calculus and Statistics teacher Ryan Newhouse said he was lucky that the College Board cut down some of the required curriculum for the test.
“It’s kind of hard to teach virtually,” Coach Newhouse said. “It’s not impossible. We’re all trying to make the best of a difficult situation, but I would much rather see my students face-to-face and be able to work things out in person. We just have to do that virtually now so sometimes I will Zoom with them.”
An Important Year Cut Short
American Sign Language Teacher Sharon Arnold said because of school closing, the end of her teaching career was anticlimactic.
“I am actually retiring this year,” Mrs. Arnold said. “It’s sad because I wanted to hug all my seniors and I wanted to be at graduation and say goodbye to everyone.”
Though students and faculty cannot physically be together, student council president Sydney Anderson stayed active on school social media accounts. She kept the student body in close contact through fun Instagram challenges, Facebook Live Q&A’s and consistent updates on Twitter.
“We created the @MHS2020Graduates Instagram to show off all the seniors and show off what they’re doing with their life and hopefully make them feel better,” Sydney said. “I wanted to keep everyone close together throughout quarantine.”
The district has tried to create meaningful experiences for seniors while also following social distancing guidelines. On May 11, the district unveiled a graduation plan that would allow students to receive their diploma and cross the stage.
“We came up with a compromise because it won’t get everyone together,” Dr. McDaniel said. “Yes, I would love to have a big stadium full of people but we can’t because of restrictions.”
Senior Valerie Landis said that her last year of high school lacked the closure she expected from her last day.
“I’m sad that I didn’t get any concrete ‘Goodbyes,’” Valerie said. “Nobody knew that Friday, March 6 was going to be our last day of high school.”
Uncertainty for the 2020-2021 School Year
Although high school may be over for 2020 seniors, looking ahead, the future is still unclear for the 2020-2021 school year.
“We all have to be thinking about the ‘What if?’ scenarios not when they happen, but before they happen,” Principal Alan Arbabi said. “We just don’t know what it’s going to look like.”
Teachers and administrators are planning ahead to make up for levels of regression in students throughout distance learning.
“We understand we’re going to have to catch students back up and teachers understand that,” Dr. McDaniel said. “We will do our best to do so. If there’s any level of regression, we have to make it up as quickly as we possibly can.”
Mr. Arbabi emphasized the importance of students doing their part at home as good humans and family members.
“You may be under a lot of stress, but the adults in your house are really going through a lot of uncertainty as well,” Mr. Arbabi said. “As adults, we’re feeling a lot of pressure here too.”
Despite these pressures, even outside the walls of McKinney High School, some students still say they are still lions at heart.
“I am so grateful for the four years I had at McKinney,” senior Abigail Wheeler said. “The ending may have been different than we anticipated, but I will always have a special place in my heart for lion nation.”