‘We’re all in this together’: High school seniors reflect on tumultuous year

  • Easthampton High School senior Alice Wanamaker has also been taking remote classes at Holyoke Community College. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • High school senior Cylie Kirejczyk and junior Saleh Axelrod practice a cheerleading routine during an outdoor practice session Sunday at Easthampton High School. FOR THE GAZETTE/SABATO VISCONTI

  • Easthampton High School senior Cylie Kirejczyk calls a cheer chant Sunday during an outdoor team practice at the high school field. FOR THE GAZETTE/SABATO VISCONTI

  • Easthampton High School senior Cylie Kirejczyk calls a cheer chant during an outdoor team practice session at the high school field, Sunday in Easthampton. FOR THE GAZETTE/SABATO VISCONTI

  • Easthampton High School Senior Cylie Kirejczyk takes a break during cheerleading practice at the high school field Sunday in Easthampton. FOR THE GAZETTE/SABATO VISCONTI

  • Easthampton High School Senior Cylie Kirejczyk takes a break during cheerleading practice at the high school field Sunday in Easthampton. FOR THE GAZETTE/SABATO VISCONTI

  • Cylie Kirejczyk, a senior at Easthampton High School, practices some routines during a group cheerleading practice, one of the first since the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic, Sunday morning in Easthampton. FOR THE GAZETTE/SABATO VISCONTI

  • Cylie Kirejczyk, a senior at Easthampton High School, practices some routines during a group cheerleading practice, one of the first since the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic, Sunday morning in Easthampton. FOR THE GAZETTE/SABATO VISCONTI

  • Easthampton High School senior Cylie Kirejczyk leads a cheerleading routine Sunday along with squad members Saleh Axelrod, Ernesto Matos and Kayla Dagenais during one of their first group practices since the pandemic took hold last spring. FOR THE GAZETTE/SABATO VISCONTI

  • High School senior Cylie Kirejczyk and junior Saleh Axelrod practice a cheerleading routine during an outdoor practice session at Easthampton High School, Sunday in Easthampton. FOR THE GAZETTE/SABATO VISCONTI

  • The Easthampton High School Eagles cheerleading team welcomed a return to outdoor practice on a spring-like Sunday morning. Senior Cylie Kirejczyk, junior Saleh Axelrod, senior Kayla Dagenais, and senior Ernesto Matos rehearse a cheer at the high school field in Easthampton. FOR THE GAZETTE/SABATO VISCONTI

Staff Writer
Published: 3/24/2021 7:18:19 PM

Editor’s note:This story is part of a weeklong series marking the one-year anniversary of the COVID-19 pandemic.

EASTHAMPTON — High school seniors in Hampshire County have been experiencing a school year like no other. They’ve been largely remote from academic peers, cut off from the normal crowds at arts and sports events, and unable to enjoy some of the classic features and perks of their senior status.

“It’s definitely not what I would have thought as a freshman,” said Gabe Colenback, a senior at Easthampton High School.

Still, there is some hope, with COVID-19 vaccinations ramping up, that this year’s high school graduates might yet have somewhat normal graduations — or even proms.

“It would just make the entire year kind of worth it,” said Cylie Kirejczyk, an Easthampton High School senior.

Despite the challenges, area seniors have managed to make the best of their situation, finding connections and accomplishments in a difficult time.

Colenback noted that while it’s disappointing to miss out on activities including senior trips, the senior cruise and taking on leadership roles in school, the school has still made students feel they are part of a community.

“They made it clear that we’re all in this together,” he said.

Teachers have been engaging during remote learning, and have made space for extra Zoom time. And Easthampton High School Principal William Evans, Colenback says, “still makes videos of announcements every day.”

One positive: More sleep

Hampshire Regional Senior Katarzyna Wisnauckas, who lives in Worthington, has been going to school remotely for her entire senior year.

There’s at least one positive, she says: “I’ve definitely been getting a lot more sleep.”

However, remote schooling requires a lot more independent learning, she noted. If you get lost, she said, it’s harder to get back on track.

Though Hampshire Regional has been offering a hybrid model of learning since December, Wisnauckas is going to continue to learn remotely for now, both because of the distance between Worthington and Hampshire Regional and because of concerns around teacher safety.

“I want to wait until there’s a vaccine for teachers,” Wisnauckas said, whose mother is a teacher in the Westfield school system.

 Bryce Illingsworth, a Southampton senior at Hampshire Regional, said much of what often makes senior year special has been taken away this year.

“As a result of COVID, we’ve kind of had all those privileges and exciting moments stripped away,” he said.

Illingsworth has been attending school in person at Hampshire Regional twice a week since December. In-person education, he said, is more conducive to learning than the remote model.

“In-person time with your teachers and professors is crucial,” he said, adding that he hopes the school transitions to in-person learning four days a week soon.

Jack Feltovic is a Hadley senior at Hopkins Academy and, like many of his fellow classmates, he’s spent his entire senior year learning remotely by choice. 

“We’re still learning a lot,” he said, “despite not being hands-on in the classroom.”

And though Feltovic noted that staring at a screen all day can be boring, he said his teachers have been doing an incredible job “making class engaging.”

Feltovic also said that he will always be grateful this year for the support of friends, teachers and coaches.

Sports and activities

Playing sports was something students cited as helping them in the pandemic. Wisnauckas is a three-sport athlete who got to run cross country and compete in Nordic skiing her senior year, and is preparing to play lacrosse in the spring. Competing in her sports allowed her to see many of her friends, she said.

Feltovic, another three-sport athlete, also noted that he had been able to play basketball this year without any COVID scares on his team or the ones they played against, and that he’s preparing to play soccer.

At the same time Wisnauckas, a flute player, noted that she’s been unable to participate in group music performances this year due to the pandemic.

“That’s just been a really sad part of the year,” she said.

Easthampton High School’s Kirejczyk said that probably her best memory so far was helping this year’s We the People civics class win a state championship as a teaching assistant.

“That was something that was really memorable for me,” she said.

Last year, Kirejczyk was part of the We the People class from Easthampton that won the national championship in the nationwide civics competition, a feat no Massachusetts school had ever accomplished before.

Alice Wanamaker was also a part of last year’s winning We the People team and is also helping out this year’s class as a teaching assistant.

“It’s the only thing that’s really felt similar,” she said.

Wanamaker has been taking classes remotely at EHS, as well as at Holyoke Community College. She said she prefers her HCC classes because they require less Zoom time and are more self-directed.

 Kirejczyk, who was interviewed before Easthampton moved to a hybrid model, expressed excitement in anticipation of the change.

“I definitely wish we could have done some things earlier,” she said, although she acknowledged the school’s decision to close classrooms made sense in the context of the pandemic.

Wanamaker is continuing her high school work remotely because the times she would do in-person learning conflict with her HCC classes. And she said that while she enjoys her community college classes, she is disappointed that her friends will get more time in person.

“It’s kind of a mixed bag,” she said.

For staying in touch with friends, Wanamker has been playing a lot of the role-playing game Dungeons and Dragons over Zoom, which she said translates well over the videoconferencing application.

“I feel really lucky that that was the main way I connected with my friends beforehand,” she said. “It’s like memories of going on an adventure together without leaving your room.” 

Bera Dunau can be reached at bdunau@gazettenet.com.




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