A regular school day quickly took a turn for the worse for the graduating students at Lumsden High School (LHS).
“We had been talking about it all morning, about what we would do if the schools shut down,” said LHS senior, Danika Giesbrecht, recalling the events of March 16.
On March 12 the first case of COVID-19 virus was announced in Saskatchewan. And a week later all schools in the province were closed until further notice.
By March 19 the number of cases had risen to 20 and now, just over two weeks later, the total has rose to 249 cases in the province.
Premier Scott Moe tweeted on March 19 that schools would be “suspended indefinitely, effective March 20th due to the ongoing COVID pandemic.”
— Scott Moe (@PremierScottMoe) March 16, 2020
“One of the students read [the tweet] of what had been announcing that the schools will be closed indefinitely and I immediately broke into tears, ” said Giesbrecht.
The staff wasn’t immediately aware of why the students were getting so emotional.
“[Students] found out about this tweet before our Director of Education had told our schools and therefore before our principals had told the teachers,” said Drew Schenk, who has been teaching at LHS for 23 years.
“So [the students] were finding out this message before teachers could even react or say anything to them.”
Giesbrecht explained how many students didn’t know how to react to the news that schools would close.
“I had kind of been joking around about it … but I didn’t expect it to actually happen,” she said.
Schenk mentioned how the atmosphere in the school and his classroom changed drastically overnight.
“Monday was sort of like a happy go lucky. [Students were thinking] school is going to be cancelled and [they] get an extended break. And then by Tuesday I think fear was setting in, and it was a little more real to the kids,” said Schenk.
But even more, this affected the senior class.
“I feel like all of us weren’t expecting to say goodbye on that short of notice,” said Giesbrecht.
“If I would have known, pulling up on that Monday that, that was going to be one of the last times I pulled up to the school, I wouldn’t have taken a lot of things for granted,”
Giesbrecht mentioned that because of the pandemic, the seniors were feeling like they would be missing out on many big milestones in their lives such as a true graduation ceremony and receiving their diplomas.
“That is something you’ve dreamed about since you were little,” said Giesbrecht.
“I remember thinking what is my grad dress going to be and now knowing that I might not get that, it is just so unsettling.”
Schenk saw this heartbreak in his students and planned a spontaneous surprise graduation ceremony for the class on March 17.
“We just walked in and there were balloons and flowers set up and then all of us sat down,” said Giesbrecht. “And immediately, so many of us were crying because this could be our only grad.”
The staff at LHS gathered together for the seniors as they were called up one by one and given their “diplomas,” which was then followed by a speech done by Schenk.
“It was definitely sobering knowing that [the staff] care about us so much,” said Giesbrecht. “We were all scared but they handled the emotion so well.”
Schenk spent the night of March 16 planning the graduation for the next afternoon. Schenk said he spent the night preparing his speech and printing out fake scrolls for the principal to give out the next day.
“I sure as hell wanted there to be more than that for them, but I also just wanted to leave them with a little something and hoping that it could fill the void a tiny bit,” said Schenk
Even though the students are off school now, the staff is coming up with a way to keep the kids learning before they move onto the next grade or into university.
But Giesbrecht is concerned that not finishing her Grade 12 year will affect her future education.
“I definitely think that this is going to affect a lot for my future. Because I’m not going to be able to finish a lot of classes that I do need for post-secondary,” said Giesbrecht.
“I’m not prepared to be off of school for five months, and then go back into college and have to get back into that mindset.”
Schenk agrees the school cancellations may hinder the students future education, but doesn’t believe it will be the “be all, end all.”
“I think in the end, sometimes we get a little caught up in school and academics and what’s important and what’s not important,” said Schenk.
“It’s not really what you learn, but it’s that you’re learning.”
But through this time during the pandemic, Giesbrecht is still able to find the positives in the situation.
“My senior year is going to be memorable to say the least,” said Giesbrecht.
“A lot of things are getting taken away from me, but I’m never going to forget what happened.”