Upper School teacher and Grade 12 Dean Paul Esch sat down with five members of Parker’s Class of 2022—Luke Krongard, Lucy Loughridge, John Valverde, Jayna Wadhwa, and Delaney Wilson—to talk about their senior year experiences, plans for the future, and what it was like attending high school at Parker during the COVID-19 pandemic. (This conversation was edited for space and clarity.)
This story originally appeared in the spring 2022 issue of Parker Magazine.
Photos By Courtney Ranaudo
Mr. Esch: What has it been like to be a high school student during a pandemic?
John: When the pandemic first started and we were all online, for me personally, it was difficult because it was so different from the everyday life I was used to. So I really appreciated that Parker started last year with the hybrid model, even if it was in those cohorts and smaller groups. Even though I had my family, not getting to be around anyone my age was tough. Just getting to be back around students in-person and talk about—it sounds ridiculous, but—TikTok or YouTube or TV shows people were watching, all of those things made such a difference. We need humans, especially our peers, to validate our emotions and our experiences. So I appreciated that Parker let us come on campus and connect with our friends and teachers.
Delaney: Yeah, the beginning of the pandemic wasn’t fun. I guess selfishly, despite all of the terrible things people were experiencing because of COVID, I couldn’t help but feel like I was missing out on a high school experience. I didn’t get to play a junior year of volleyball almost all season, I didn’t get a winter formal or get to go to football games. I couldn’t have any of my friends or family cheer me on in the stands. But in many ways, I also felt lucky. I had a lot of people come in from my cohort every day. And my teachers eventually found a way to do things like hands-on labs in bio, which was really fun. We got to dissect sheep hearts, which I never would’ve thought I would be able to do during a virtual school year. I’m thankful for Parker teachers who made the best out of a difficult situation.
Luke: I had an experience pretty similar to Delaney’s where a lot of people came in from my cohort; and I’ll be honest, at the start of the year, I didn’t have any close friends within my cohort, so I was a little disappointed. But I think one of the nice things was that everyone was very enthusiastic who did come in. They wanted to retain some aspect or some level of normalcy, and so I became friends with people in my cohort who, I think otherwise, I probably wouldn’t have had classes with or been close friends with. And so that was definitely one positive thing. I can’t stress enough how important it was that Parker was open in person so much earlier. I was always super grateful to be going here because even our peer schools did not have the same level of openness that we did. That made such a huge difference for me.
John: Something sort of unexpected is that we’ve actually had higher attendance at school events now that we are allowed to open up more. I think it is because of that isolation everyone experienced. Our last dance had the highest attendance ever, at least in my four years, and it sounded like it was breaking all the records.
Mr. Esch: It did break the record. More than 500 students, and I think 75 off-campus guests attended.
John: And I think really the main reason for that is because we were locked inside and so many people were missing that social interaction. I think that’s an unintended, positive consequence of the pandemic.
Mr. Esch: Yeah, oddly enough, it’s like we kicked school spirit back into gear.
Jayna: It really comes down to not wanting to take things for granted, because occasionally I used to be like, “Oh yeah, sure. I’ll miss that school dance,” because I didn’t really feel like going. When I barely saw anyone my senior year, I just realized, “I’m not going to miss out on anything.”
Mr. Esch: Let’s look at the teachers’ side. If you could give your teachers an affirmation or a message about the work they’ve done over the last two years, what would it be?
Jayna: Teachers are probably the strongest people I’ve ever met. Mr. Esch, I was in your class over the pandemic. When we came back in hybrid, having some people online and some people in person must’ve been so difficult to deal with because it’s two very different styles of teaching that have to happen simultaneously. I think all the teachers did a fantastic job, and I’m so grateful for all the work that they’ve done to make being in the classroom a reality for students.
Delaney: All of my teachers last year were absolutely fantastic, whether they were 100 percent online or in person. I don’t think I would’ve wanted to come to school every day if I didn’t have such engaging teachers. I have so much gratitude and respect for them.
Luke: I went into it expecting the quality of instruction to go down; and it wouldn’t be the teachers’ fault, but just the nature of having half as many classes and having them online. But honestly, I felt very prepared, even in the AP classes. The online resources the teachers provided were pretty incredible. They had several videos for each topic that you could watch, and they were super responsive to emails. Just thinking of the enormous amount of work it takes to basically rewrite a curriculum in almost no time … and I still felt prepared for every tough test and assignment. Many of the teachers who I’m closest with today, I started with them in their online class. That’s how seriously they took the curriculum and staying connected to their students.
Mr. Esch: Speaking of feeling prepared, how do you hope to take what you’ve learned through this into adulthood to make a positive impact in your community and the world?
John: What I love about Parker is this idea of educating a Renaissance person who doesn’t necessarily specialize in one area, but broadens their perspective to many topics, and finds the connections between them. And that’s how I hope to help my community: by diving into different interests and topics and being willing to see issues from different perspectives.
Jayna: I couldn’t agree more. I would say well-roundedness is one of the most valuable things I learned from Parker that’s going to help me make a meaningful difference in the future. I know pretty solidly that I want to do engineering—I’m a STEM person—but that doesn’t mean that I should abandon the humanities classes in college. Because when you think about it, every single discipline has other interdisciplinary effects that work alongside it. Like with science, specifically engineering, you’ll make a more meaningful impact when you can fully grasp the ethics of that topic.
Lucy: One of the most valuable lessons that I’ve learned at Parker is how to network and communicate. I know I’m able to handle conversations, regardless of how difficult or awkward they may be. And I’m confident in asking questions or searching for the right person to answer my questions. Which I hope will be valuable skills to have regardless of where I’m at in life.
Luke: It’s difficult in high school to figure out what path you want to take, but I think Parker has made me aware of what paths are available to me. In terms of making a difference, students—myself included—have maybe joked about things like Life Skills in advisory. Now that I’m getting close to graduation and have started to reflect on these things, I’ve realized how important it is to be aware of issues, especially if they don’t impact you personally. It’s made me aware of things that I had no idea about and that I now deeply care about. I hope I carry all of that with me into the future.
Delaney: I’m going to be fully honest: I really have no idea which college path I’m going to take at this moment. But I feel fully equipped that when I do figure it out, I have all of the tools I need. Most importantly, I also know that if I need help, I can 100 percent reach back to my connections, teachers, and friends at Parker. I really believe I can achieve almost anything I set my mind to because I always have people to support me when I need it.
Mr. Esch: Is there anything that you want adults to know about your generation?
Jayna: One thing everyone knows about is our dependence on technology, social media platforms, the internet, et cetera. I know a lot of older generations tend to think of that as a negative thing, but I think there are also a lot of positives in it. During the last two years of the pandemic, the internet and social media platforms were how we were all able to connect with one another. And while the world as a whole may be overly dependent on social media, I think our generation is really well equipped to deal with the challenges of it moving forward. So as we enter the workforce, as we enter college spaces and classes, we’re going to have this deep knowledge of technology that I think will serve us really, really well.
Mr. Esch: What you said just brought up a memory. When the pandemic hit and we all had to stay at home, all the adults were like, “What do we do?!” And then you, Jayna, developed a spreadsheet that converted everyone’s regular schedule into a new daily virtual schedule. It was amazing. It was one the coolest things I’ve ever seen.
Delaney: I hope that older generations understand that our generation isn’t lazy, we’re just doing work in ways people have never seen done before. We might be utilizing technology in ways that feel foreign, but it’s how we’ve learned to get things done.
Lucy: I agree. Every generation has dealt with adversity, so to think that our generation is more resilient than others, I don’t necessarily agree with that. One thing that defines our generation, though, is the sense of urgency. There’s the pandemic, political division, and climate change all right here on our doorstep. Sometimes it feels like it’s less of a matter of our generation being up to the challenge and more that we just don’t have a choice at this point.
Luke: One thing I think will benefit us is that Gen Z-ers tend to be open-minded in a positive way. Previous generations tended to shy away from, for example, mental health, whereas we are generally open to asking questions and discussing tough topics. Alongside the pandemic, mental health became one of those things that people started to talk more about. And I think there are a lot of people our parents’ age who, when they hear their children talking openly about mental health, tend to get a little apprehensive. I hope they start to see it as a positive change: more people being able to share their experiences will help us all to reflect on our own lives and relationships.