Like any typical late summer, students everywhere are eagerly awaiting the start of the academic year, particularly rising high school seniors.

Alana Gordon is a rising senior at Beth Tfiloh.

After three years of looking up to the seniors who came before them, admiring their leadership and envying their elective-filled schedules, rising seniors greatly look forward to their turn to finally shine in their school’s spotlight.

But the graduating class of 2021 is facing back-to-school angst and obstacles like none of their predecessors, an anticipation fueled and defined by the lost experiences and constant uncertainty of the COVID-19 pandemic.

While many public school systems around the country — including Baltimore City and County — will open virtually at the start of this academic year, independent private schools are meticulously constructing their reopening plans to prioritize student and faculty health and safety while striving not to diminish the quality of education.

Jack Fishel is a rising senior at the Boys’ Latin School of Maryland.

But given the ability of the coronavirus to spread rapidly and pervasively, many changes are being made regarding school operations. Many private schools are implementing a “cohort system” in which a rotation of one or two grades will come in physically each day, wearing masks and maintaining social distance, while the rest of the student body learns remotely.

This plan minimizes the amount of students and staff in a school facility at any given time, but arguably diminishes the sense of community spirit and activities at a school.

Jack Fishel, a rising senior at the Boys’ Latin School of Maryland, laments how his “school is planning on each of its grades being its own cohort, so most connection will be lost between grades.”

Abby Rosenberg is a rising senior at the Friends School of Baltimore.

High school seniors often serve as role models and mentors for their underclassmen, and being separated by grades will prevent students of different ages from interacting, notes Lucie Boucher, a rising senior at the Bryn Mawr School.

“Coming in as a freshman, it was really important to make those connections with upperclassmen,” she says. “It’s going to be really hard to not have that opportunity.”

In addition, senior privileges — such as eating lunches off-campus or having a designated “senior room” at school — will not able to be implemented due to the pandemic, much to the disappointment of the current crop of rising seniors.

Lucie Boucher is a rising senior at the Bryn Mawr School.

“There’s this hall called ‘Senior Hall,’ and the freshmen and sophomores are horrified of even walking through it because it’s where the seniors are,” says Abby Rosenberg, a rising senior at the Friends School of Baltimore. “But now, we [seniors] can’t even sit in the hallways.”

Despite all of these setbacks and disappointments, soon-to-be seniors still hold out hope for some semblance of a normal final year of high school.

Alana Gordon, a rising senior at the Beth Tfiloh Dahan Community School, says of returning to school, “It’s risky, but we’re seniors and we want to have somewhat of a normal experience.”

A Pikesville resident and graduate of the Krieger Schechter Day School, Gillian Blum is a rising senior at the Bryn Mawr School. She is Jmore’s editorial intern.

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