• Community
  • COVID-19
  • Student Life
How This Spring Will Shape Our Students

Kelly Herrington, director of college counseling and student services, reflects on lessons being learned by UPrep students during COVID-19.

  • Community
  • COVID-19
  • Student Life
Kelly Herrington, Director of College Counseling and Student Services

Why is it that in times of uncertainty, we remember two things? Community and the weather. OK, that sounds like a bad quote from the 1950s, so let’s move to the turn of this past century.

I remember working in college admissions around September 11. As the Twin Towers fell on a beautiful bluebird day, I was in a cramped room filled with sweaty high school seniors. As the gravity of what was happening unfolded, those seniors were songbirds of compassion, wisdom, and strength. They hugged each other. They provided words of support to their teachers. And they called for a moment of silence. There was no place I would rather have been on that day. And there is no place I would rather be right now during our COVID-19 pandemic than at UPrep. 

In the aftermath of September 11, the news cycle was awash with stories insinuating that the students coming of age were going to be known as the “scared and lost generation.” In reality, I witnessed quite the opposite. Yes, there were some students who struggled, and understandably so. However, many of these students reached out for help—and they emerged from this period as better self-advocates who became more self-aware of their needs. I appreciated how these students honestly shared their feelings, which in turn made them stronger, more authentic humans. It was as if this collective vulnerability fostered greater growth for all.

I also witnessed students who were the linchpins of their communities during this difficult period. When the adults did not know what to say or do, these students knew precisely what to say and do. We are seeing this same scenario play out right now in our UPrep community as our students organize food drives, cheer on frontline workers, and eat terrible food while participating in grade-level movie nights. They are marrying a seriousness of purpose with typical adolescent rituals. Both the purpose and the rituals are necessary. OK, maybe those Flamin’ Hot Cheetos washed down with bubble tea during those movie nights are not totally necessary!

Some students will move through our COVID-19 pandemic relatively unflustered while others might struggle. We often dwell on those who thrive in tough times without acknowledging those who do not immediately flourish. All groups on this continuum at UPrep are seen, teach us something, and constitute a healthy community. As a school, we recognize and value this breadth.

Our students are dealing with some significant feelings of worry and loss. For some students, their worry is around food insecurity, parents who are now unemployed, or sick relatives. Many of our students are feeling a loss around their co-curricular lives. What cannot be replaced during this era of social distancing are the memories of running around the soccer field on a cold spring day in a state playoff game or putting on a suit for the state Mock Trial competition. These rituals and connections bind students together and educate in a way that cannot be replicated via Zoom. Some students have part of their identities wrapped up in their co-curricular activities, and to be stripped of these opportunities can be very disconcerting and disorienting. These activities provide a much needed release of energy and artistic abilities, and also offer students grounding and community. For these losses and worries, I am so sorry.

Although I find myself saying “I am sorry” a lot lately, I also find myself saying “that is so cool,” too. I am impressed by the ingenious ways our students have found to build community, maintain their fitness, and help out around the house. I have heard about the elaborate cakes they have baked for their families, the epic walks they have taken with their dogs, the resume they wrote for a newly unemployed parent, and the old car in the garage they have finally gotten up and running again. There is great value in all of these activities. They are, indeed, truly invaluable co-curricular pursuits.

Another expression I find myself uttering quite a bit is “I am so proud.” I am so proud of how our faculty took just one day to pivot and roll out our robust online learning program. Interestingly, most colleges gave their faculty two weeks to prepare for such a move. In the game of being nimble and innovative educators, our faculty handily beat most of America’s college faculty. In fact, it was a total blowout win! I am also proud of how our Admissions and Financial Aid Office quickly developed a fund for families who now need financial support to attend UPrep due to the economic ramifications of COVID-19. And I am proud of how our students have showed up to class each and every day online without complaint and with their characteristic enthusiasm for learning.

The reward of my career in education is that I get to see students’ past histories and peer into their futures. What I see moving forward for all of our students are futures filled with great promise. I am confident that this generation of students will be known for how they learned and grew during a global pandemic. This period will inform and shape them, but it will not define them. They will leverage our current circumstance to better understand themselves and to serve others. Our students are indeed songbirds of compassion, wisdom, and strength. Our entire community has fostered nothing less than this in them, and what a gift it is to witness our students as they stretch and grow into new versions of themselves this spring.



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