Lisa Albanese’s daughter, Gianna, a North Shore High School senior, is her fourth child to study in the North Shore School District. But Albanese, of Glen Head, said the pandemic has made Gianna’s senior year vastly different from those of her brothers and sister.
Albanese, a parent representative of the class of 2021, said her daughter has missed out on nearly every tradition and event that her siblings enjoyed, which was why she and several other parents of seniors got together in January to form the Senior Parent Planning Committee. Their goal, she said, is to provide fun, Covid-safe events for NSHS seniors in order to restore a sense of normalcy to their lives.
“We kind of felt like, if it was safe, we really wanted to try and give them some kind of celebratory senior year, for their mental health, their emotional well-being,” Albanese said, “just to get them excited about something [and] give them something to look forward to.”
The committee’s goals include an outdoor Sports Night, a senior fashion show and an outdoor Senior Sunrise breakfast. Ensuring students experience a senior prom is among the priorities because that is what seniors want the most, Albanese said, although it’s too far away to plan just yet.
Melissa August-Levin, of Glen Head, a committee member, said that a Senior Spirit Week is also in the works for the week of April 12. The committee plans to have the school decorated on Monday and Tuesday, with events becoming grander as the week goes on. The week will be about celebrating seniors, she said, culminating in a special event on Friday.
NSHS students are working on a hybrid learning model, separated into two cohorts based on last names in alphabetical order. The two cohorts alternate between remote and in-school learning every other day Monday through Thursday, and all students are remote on Friday.
“I think that we want to bring some light back into their school year and some school spirit back into their hearts,” August-Levin said.
Because students only ever see half of their classmates, many are feeling apathetic toward school this year, August-Levin said. She said senior year can feel incomplete when students cannot see all their friends, which was why the committee’s most recent planned event, Senior Dog Day on March 11, was such a success. Students were thrilled to interact with one another and their dogs on the NSHS field, she said, as some of them had barely seen certain friends for the last year.
August-Levin’s son, Jack Levin, 17, said he appreciates everything that teachers and school administrators have done to make school life as normal as possible while still remaining safe. He said he is excited to finally start playing tennis and soccer, which he was initially unsure would be possible. The committee’s dedication to enhancing students’ experiences, he said, is invaluable.
“I think they’re doing a great job,” Levin said. “. . . I’m just hoping to get things that we can do together as a grade, because we need to cherish the last couple of months that we have together before we all go our separate ways.”
Fellow senior Jules Firouztale, 18, said her spirits were low at the start of the school year, especially since cross-country and track were not official parts of NSHS’s intramural programs in the fall. Stress and a lack of excitement have made for a difficult year for many seniors, she said, although she and her friends are happy to see things turning around. Sports have restarted, and seniors can attend varsity football games, which she said have played an outsized role in boosting spirits.
“I hope that everyone stays very safe and healthy,” Firouztale said. “I hope that everything works out, like prom and Homecoming and track meets and maybe some track trips. I hope all of that works out to bring some sense of normalcy back into the world.”
Throughout the planning process, the committee has collaborated with NSHS and district administrators, whom August-Levin said want the events as much as the committee does. All parties have worked together well, she said, which gives her a sense of optimism for the future.
NSHS Principal Eric Contreras said everyone recognizes how important it is for seniors to be able to celebrate the journey they have taken through the district over the last 12 years. The work has shown that community members are dedicated to working for their children, he said, which is important at any time, not just during a pandemic.
“We have an obligation to work together as adults to give our students a moment to celebrate together,” Contreras said, “to engage in activities that seniors have always engaged in at North Shore and to strengthen these social bonds, these friendships, that have been developed over many years that can become unraveled unless we support them.”