Most high school seniors are disappointed that they will not get to experience their final year of high school to the fullest due to COVID-19. The class of 2020 will not experience their senior prom or know what it feels like to walk in their graduation ceremony or celebrate with their classmates at Project Grad.

School campuses have been closed since spring break, and there have been ongoing discussions to determine solutions to address the loss of educational content resulting from the COVID-19 crisis. To adjust, schools have launched distance learning opportunities and/or distributed learning packets to students and parents via email, school websites and pick-up as needed.

One example is Roosevelt High School, where all teachers are on google classrooms. “Under the leadership of Sean Wong, just like many of our principles across the state, our educators are doing tremendous work to reach out to and continue to educate our students,” said DOE Superintendent Dr. Christina Kishimoto.

Nanea Thompson, a Roosevelt High School freshman, is adjusting to the distance-learning transition from home. “It isn’t the same as learning in person, but it’s not completely new. We use technology frequently as a part of our learning anyway,” said Thompson.

On April 17th, the Hawai‘i State Department of Education announced that school campuses would remain closed through the end of the school year. For most seniors, their third-quarter grades will be used to determine whether they will graduate. For those who do not meet graduation requirements, the DOE’s focus is now on credit recovery through distance learning. Administrators of each school are developing intervention and targeted remediation plans for students who may be on the borderline.

The Board of Education recently approved the Hawai‘i Department of Education’s request to modify graduation requirements. Dr. Kishimoto and her team have finalized those graduation plans. “The decision around celebrating this milestone with our seniors was an emotional one, as most students have looked forward to this occasion since they were in elementary school. However, the safety and health of our community is paramount, and we are basing our decisions on guidance from health and state officials,” said Kishimoto.

“Approximately 90% of our students are eligible to graduate based on their third-quarter grades,” said Nohea Walker, Program Director of Kamehameha Scholars, a Kamehameha Schools college and career counseling program for high school students attending a public, charter or private school other than Kamehameha.

“What’s difficult is that online learning isn’t for everyone,” said Walker. “It sounds easy, but it takes a skill set for independence, discipline, and self-management that might not be a reality for all of our students.”

When Kia‘i Ramos, a Mililani High School senior, received an email from his administration in March notifying him and his peers that their senior prom and graduation ceremonies would be canceled as a result of the coronavirus it felt surreal. “We put in 14 years of school for no reward,” said Ramos. “We had our grad practices already. I took my senior portraits. I even got my cap and gown.”

Similarly, Kā‘eo Kekumano, a Kamehameha Schools Kapālama senior who has invested a great deal into his years of schooling is worried about the potential harm this pandemic may cause to his post-high school education. Kekumano was accepted into both the University of Southern California and Yale but will be attending first-choice Harvard in the Fall. “I really don’t want to start college online,” said Kekumano. “But it’s better than nothing.”

Thriving academically despite living with the restrictions necessary to prevent the spread of COVID-19 is key. Kathryn Kekaulike, Kamehameha Schools Kapalāma’s Post-Secondary Program Director says that, “Should COVID-19 necessitate us staying apart this fall, or gathering in smaller groups, it will be all the more critical to continue to find ways to come together. To support not only basic needs of those in our community, but also to find creative ways to continue to live a full life, actively engage students in their learning, and to continue to dream and plan for a bright and better future.”