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Greater Lafayette High School Counselors And Senior Students Respond To School Closures

Emilie Syberg


Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb closed K-12 schools through the end of the academic year last week, just as Tippecanoe County students and teachers eased into the first days of remote learning.

At West Lafayette Junior-Senior High School, counselor Libby Sheffield and her team would typically be deep into a routine testing season, managing ISTEP,  scheduling ACTs and SATs, and preparing for Advanced Placement testing -- but not this year.

“We’re just kind of flying by the seat of our pants, honestly,” Sheffield said. “We just really want to stay in touch with everybody, because we’re kind of the department that is the glue that holds everything together, and this is hard. Really, really hard.”  

Sheffield said they’re grappling with the unknown: how impacts on learning now will reveal themselves in the future.

“For all students, we base a lot on what they do next year on how they did this year,” Sheffield said. “And that’s going to be true K-12. And we really aren’t going to have a very accurate picture of, truly, what they learned and what they’re capable of from this fourth quarter.” 

Sheffield says counselors are also working without some of the benefits of the in-person, “tight-knit” nature of the school community, which typically helps provide important context for a student’s behavior and progress. 

“We always are talking to teachers and asking them to let us know if they have a student in class who seems to be struggling,” Sheffield said. “And that’s probably the biggest part that’s missing here now. Teachers are not going to have that daily, in the room with the kids -- with the students -- contact.”

But, Sheffield said, as remote learning continues and teachers continue to interact with their classes virtually, the hope is those students will still be identified and able to access help--whether that’s through a phone call, e-mail, or video chat. And counselors will continue to touch base with students with whom they regularly meet. 

“We are as connected as anybody else,” Sheffield said. 

McCutcheon High School counselor Kristi Kendall said once May and June arrive, schools can start looking ahead to what’s next -- to plan A or plan B. 

“I think there’s just a lot of unknown,” Kendall said. “We are working through it.”

Kendall said while freshmen, sophomore, and junior students are hit hard by the changes, it’s especially difficult for seniors. 

“You just feel bad for these kids,” Kendall said. “This isn’t just their one school year. This is their high school career, that’s ending in a way none of us could have anticipated.” 

West Lafayette Junior-Senior High School senior class president Benjamin Dunford said missing big final events like prom and graduation was disappointing -- but he also misses the ordinary day-to-day routines of high school life.

“Honestly, just getting to see people,” Dunford said. “Like, school got cancelled to the end of the year now. It’s kind of hard, because there’s a whole bunch of people that I might not ever see again, and that’s really rough.”


Credit Photo provided by Benjamin Dunford
Benjamin Dunford in his high school production of "The Music Man."

Dunford said some of his teachers had made a point to check in with students, leading discussions about mental health before starting class.

“Which I’ve really appreciated,” Dunford said. 

McCutcheon High School senior Natalie Jefson said she’ll appreciate the chance to return to a normal class routine in the fall, when she starts college.

“I think I’ll appreciate that even more,” Jefson said. “And then also -- just being in a physical classroom. I didn’t realize how much that meant to me.”

Both students said the abrupt conclusion to their senior year was upsetting. Both also said they understood why their high school career was ending this way.

Credit Photo provided by Natalie Jefson
Natalie Jefson (center) played the flute for four years in the McCutcheon High School band.

“Recently, I’ve just been looking at the big picture and thinking -- yeah, it’s disappointing, but there’s a lot more important stuff in life, and God’s going to work everything out,” Jefson said.


Dunford said he didn’t want to feel sorry for himself. 

“I try to remind myself that -- you know, my life’s hard, and that’s okay to be sad about, but also -- I need to remember that other people have it a lot worse than I do,” Dunford said.