Virus robs Chandler high school seniors of memories The Chandler Arizonan

Virus robs Chandler high school seniors of memories

Virus robs Chandler high school seniors of memories

By Kevin Reagan
Arizonan Staff Writer

Shannon Maloney’s robotics club was excited to return to school and get back to work.

The Hamilton High School student and her classmates had already spent at least 1,000 hours building and tweaking a robot to take to a regional competition this spring.

They had just programmed their robot to start moving on its own when they got some troubling news; there’d be no competition this month because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

In effort to curb the spread of the contagious virus, nearly all social events around Arizona have been shut down until further notice.

Now as Maloney waits to hear whether the competition will be rescheduled for the summer, she’s left feeling like all the club’s work might have been for nothing.

“We spent pretty much the entire third quarter – from the first Saturday in January up until the end of third quarter – working on this every day,” Maloney said.

The competition is one of several events Maloney’s expecting to miss as her last year of high school winds down.

Prom, graduation and end-of-the-year parties are all either already canceled or about to be scrubbed or postponed while the world waits for the pandemic to wane.

Some school districts, including Mesa, already have canceled a commencement ceremony and officials are promising to explore “creative” alternatives. Some have discussed holding a ceremony later in the summer while others are exploring a virtual commencement.

Maloney is not too disappointed at the prospect of missing out on these traditional events that mark the end of high school.

It doesn’t make sense to have a bunch of students assemble in a confined space, she said, where they could potentially infect each other.

“I think for the good of society, to get everybody to overcome this pandemic, it’s okay to get rid of those things,” Maloney said.

She might host a fancy dinner in lieu of a prom and doesn’t mind potentially having to stand six feet from her classmates at graduation.

Maloney’s one of nearly 47,000 students in the Chandler Unified School District who’s had their fourth quarter abruptly interrupted by the ongoing public health crisis.

The pandemic hit while CUSD was on its two-week spring break, slowing down the district’s ability to quickly transition instruction over to an online format.

Superintendent Camille Casteel recently assured the district’s Governing Board her staff was working as fast as possible to have students learning again and asked for patience during this unprecedented event.

“I understand how some of our parents are very concerned that we haven’t rolled everything out,” Casteel told the school board on March 25.

“We are in the process of mobilizing over 5,000 employees to provide quality learning materials to 47,000 children and it’s just taken us a few days to gear up to that level.”

On March 30, the district formally implemented its “distance learning” plan, which requires teachers to electronically hand out a number of assignments each week.

The district is checking to see who logs online every day, but it won’t penalize students for not completing virtual assignments since some may struggle to gain digital access.

Chandler Unified is also offering paper assignments that can be picked up in-person.

Elementary students won’t have assignments count to their overall grade and secondary students will receive credit only if the assignments improve their existing grade.

Chandler Unified said it will devote extra time and attention to students at risk of not graduating or not advancing to their next grade level.

Maloney said her teachers have gone a great job making themselves available to answer questions and posting assignments through Google Classrooms.

During her first week of distance learning, Maloney’s teachers have assigned her to write a paragraph in Spanish about life under quarantine, answer some free-response chemistry questions, and start a book report on “The Color Purple.”

She is enrolled in several Advanced Placement courses, which allow students to take a rigorous exam at the end of the year to earn college credit.

College Board, which administers the exams, recently announced they will allow students to take the timed tests at home on their personal computers.

Maloney said she’s not worried about earning enough credits to graduate.

She was already doing well before the pandemic hit and expects the district to be more accommodating during this tumultuous time.

“Everybody’s fourth quarter is messed up,” she said. “We have to be lenient with how many assignments we’re going to have or what final exams are.”

Though her senior year didn’t end quite the way she imagined, Maloney said she’s trying to remain calm until the pandemic subsides and looks forward to attending the University of Arizona in the fall.

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