Kotara High School captains Heath Goodman and Meg Donnan say being a Year 12 student in 2020 has meant learning lessons that extend beyond the classroom.
Forfeiting excursions, camps, Schoolies, sporting events and large gatherings during COVID-19 has meant teenagers are now focusing their energy on banding together.
“Obviously it’s been hard in these circumstances but we’re definitely making the most out of the year that we’ve been given,” Meg said.
“And, I feel like it’s brought everyone closer together.”
Traditionally gearing up for HSC exams followed by end-of-year celebrations and graduations, earning cash from part-time jobs and competing in inter-school sports, Year 12 students are instead focusing on moving forward.
“It has stopped us doing a lot of the normal things, but it’s also introduced a lot of new things that are going to help us in the future,” Heath said.
“Like the technology used during lockdown, we’ve all mastered Zoom and Canvas, and our school is now going to record our graduation digitally, so it’s not just a one-day experience but one we can enjoy years down the track.
“Everyone is putting in a lot of effort to make it positive for us.”
Last week, all schools across NSW were set to receive COVID-19 safety plan guidance for Year 12 graduations and formals.
This followed a backflip from NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian, who agreed to allow the coming-of-age function for all school-leavers within the state, as long as outlined rules were adhered to.
“We have plans to have our formal here on the school grounds,” Meg said.
“It was always our original plan to do this, and it fits in with all of the restrictions and guidelines so we’re really happy with that.
“Our hall is large and can cater for social-distancing.
“The dance floor has to be well-ventilated or outside and we’re lucky enough to have a large roller-door near our dance floor that can be pulled up so, with the windows open as well, we will be following requirements.”
Plans to mark the end-of-year calendar with a trip to Sydney’s Luna Park, as is school tradition, have also been foiled, with event organisers now substituting with a special sports day on the school grounds.
Heath said many students were also finding tamer options for Schoolies Week as well, preferring to hire a home or take a camping trip to coastal towns within the state.
Part-time employment has been another casualty of COVID-19, leaving many teens without income in 2020.
“I know a lot of my friends that had part-time work have lost their jobs because JobKeeper didn’t extend to people aged under 18 and a lot of their employers stopped giving them shifts,” Meg said.
Touted as being the most social of school years, Heath and Meg admit 2020 has included feelings of isolation and frustrations with limits on gathering numbers.
“Parties are restricted to 20 people, so we can’t get our full group of friends to interact outside of school like we do inside school,” Heath said.
“It’d be good to have maybe 40 or 50 people at a party on the weekend.”
Meg said she was particularly disappointed about not being able to come to school and see her friends during the lockdown period.
“Only being able to be at our home, being away from everyone you know for that time was hard for a lot of people,” she said.
“You don’t realise how helpful teachers are in person until it’s taken away from you I guess.”
Perhaps removing some of the social aspects did have a silver lining though, with both Meg and Heath admitting it may have attributed to more time spent inside books.
“Yeah, with people not having as much time to see their friends and socialise they’re focusing on study, in that sense it was good to have time to focus on school work and not worry about missing out on things,” Meg said.
“But, at the same time, the circumstances did unmotivate some people.”
Heath added that the teachers had been a huge help to students.
“They put a massive emphasis on mental health so we can get out of the hole we might have been in, and get back to work,” he said.
There is glimmer of hope and compassion, Heath says, with the University of Newcastle offering 2020 HSC students five adjustment points as part of their UAC applications.
“It’s been a good year despite everything,” Meg added.
“People say Year 12 is the best year of your life and I would still say it has been.”