Hope behind the screen for the freshman class of 2024

Shorewood freshmen share their experiences of their first year of high school online and getting involved in the Shorewood community.

by Finley Stroh, Reporter

Shorewood freshmen spent almost all of their first year of high school online, in front of a computer screen, but they didn’t let this stop them from pursuing their high school experience to the best they could in the midst of a pandemic.

This year’s freshman class is hopeful and optimistic for the future, thanking their teachers for their dedication all along the way.

Ally Johnson, a freshman, shares her disappointments toward having her freshman year online.

“For the last few years I’ve always looked forward to high school. In middle school I’d see upperclassmen posting pictures from homecoming, football games, pep rallies and I always wanted to be a part of it, especially homecoming,” she said.

Art by Eliana Megargee

Unlike how she imagined her high school experience would be, Johnson shared the reality of it.

“I couldn’t have imagined having nearly my entire freshman year though a Zoom screen. I was over halfway through my freshman year and didn’t know how to get around my own school,” Johnson said.

Ursula Stickelmaier, freshman, describes her freshman year experience, compared to other’s freshman year. “I have been spending a lot of time at home and if I am hanging out with people it’s only like a select group of people. Everything just feels more isolated than I’m sure it was in previous years,” she said.

Although longing for the high school experience Johnson imagined, Johnson shares her concerns about going back to how things were before, if that is even possible.

She said, “I often wonder if things will be the ‘old normal’ next year, how that might impact my grades, mental health, things like that having not had a ‘normal’ freshman year.”

Not only did freshmen miss out on the typical high school experience, some also struggled in the online learning environment, but were able to get back on track with the help of hybrid learning. This was the case for freshman Emma Cloud.

“Personally to be honest, online learning sucked for me. I was not doing well in any of my classes and was falling behind,” Cloud said. Despite this, she shared that she was improving in hybrid, getting help right away from her teachers and social interaction with classmates.

Despite recognizing the challenges of missing out on the traditional high school experience and struggling in a new format of learning, 9th graders pointed out the positives and benefits of online learning freshman year, and so do their teachers.

Joann Fukuma, 9th grade Health for Life teacher and Athletic Director, shared that 9th graders are doing well and most are passing in Health for Life. 

She also pointed out an advantage of online learning pertaining to the future. “Many universities have gone to hybrid learning and I think our freshmen are more prepared in this platform. I don’t think it is a disadvantage to them,” she said.

I often wonder if things will be the ‘old normal’ next year, how that might impact my grades, mental health, things like that having not had a ‘normal’ freshman year.”

Joel Reese, Link adviser and Directed Studies teacher, pointed out that hybrid learning has given students the ability to focus on their own choice of learning style.

“The hybrid model has made it possible for students to work toward their preferred strengths, though it is a little early to see conclusive results,” Reese said.

Johnson shared her gratitude towards this year and online learning. She described this year as “an incredible learning experience.” Furthermore, Johnson finds the positives of this unusual year amidst the more negative aspects, all while hopeful for the future.

“I think we’ve all mastered the ability to adapt to nearly any situation at this point, and for that I’m actually very grateful. I might say I’m less prepared for the aspects that can’t happen during COVID, like homecoming and pep rallies, but I’m hopeful that those things can happen normally next year,” she said.

Specifically for freshmen jumping from middle school to high school, Johnson sees online learning as a way to lessen that jump.

“I think that being remote for a lot of freshman year had actually been a great way to ease into things… I do think that it’s an experience that not many people get to have, and I’ve definitely learned not to take so many things for granted, “ Johnson said.

She particularly enjoyed online learning and shared that “remote learning was better for me than anything else… it was almost no different than regular school.”

Similarly, Johnson and Stickelmaier highlighted their involvement in sports and the importance and positive impact it has had on their high school experience, especially in an unusual remote year.

“I have seen students involved in athletics since early February and feel like they are enjoying some form of normalcy and routine. I think everyone will learn to be flexible, determined and remember to care for each other a bit more. Well, that is my wish,” Fukuma shared, and added her gratitude and praise to the freshman class for getting involved in activities this year.

Johnson shared that she thinks it can be hard to get involved in sports being new at the school, but not only has she found a creative outlet, something she has been looking forward to doing in high school, but she has also been embraced with a family.

Johnson emphasized Hip Hop’s impact on her freshman year. “Hip Hop is one of the only things that has kept me hopeful for what’s to come, and how we can still have a great time, even in the midst of a pandemic,” she said. 

Stickelmaier also got involved in sports this year, participating in volleyball. Although she was unable to participate in other activities this year due to COVID or in general, she is looking to next year for opportunities and continuing to play for the volleyball team.

“I am hoping next year I’ll be able to do things like crime club and the musical that I wasn’t able to this year and I am excited to continue volleyball next year but that really all depends on what the school year will be like.”

Reese, Fukuma, and Stickelmaier agreed that teachers, students and staff have been dedicated and hard working through this strange year, and it sure is paying off.

“I think that the support I have gotten from my teachers this year has been really great and it has definitely made this strange year a little easier. Honestly, the Shorewood staff has been doing a really good job at keeping in touch and making sure everyone has a good high school experience and I really appreciate it,”  Stickelmaier said.

Fukuma reflected on her freshman students this year saying, “seems like 9th graders— and most students—  are very resilient and I appreciate their willingness to adapt and learn.” She also noticed that freshmen seem to recognize and understand the importance of their GPA establishing the foundation for the rest of their high school years.

Looking toward the future, students and teachers are hopeful and motivated for what’s to come.

Johnson said: “All I want is one normal year. In times like these it feels like that’s impossible, but I’m hopeful that we’ll ease back into some form of normalcy, more so than hybrid is, next year.”