Photo by Chaunce Shrewsbury: Eatonville High School has remained empty since March 17, but staff member have stayed in touch with students, especially seniors who are working toward graduation.
Photo by Chaunce Shrewsbury: Eatonville High School has remained empty since March 17, but staff member have stayed in touch with students, especially seniors who are working toward graduation.

As the end of the school year draws near with building doors closed due to COVID-19, Eatonville High School staff continues to engage students and assist seniors in their next steps.

The high school will not be implementing pass-or-fail policies, according to the school’s recent newsletter. Students who have worked for their credits will receive them, and those who have struggled to finish classes will be assisted. Staff is developing plans for credit completion options. Principal Amy Sturdivant said very few seniors, however, are at risk of not graduating.

She said allowing seniors, who have worked hard for three and a half years, to be left behind because of circumstances outside their control was not an option.

Packets with additional work will be available for students to complete on May 4, when Gov. Jay Inslee’s “Stay Home, Stay Healthy” proclamation is expected to end. Previously, students have not received paperwork based on recommendations by Dr. Anthony Chen, the Pierce County Health Department director of health, Sturdivant said.

Additionally, staff are accommodating students without computer or internet access and for those facing other hardships. Computers have been provided to students, and Wi-Fi is available outside all district buildings. The school has partnered with Rainier Connect to address internet access issues for students within serviceable areas.

A lack of internet connection makes it difficult to reach students, Sturdivant said. Staff members are trying to stay connected to the seniors who they have come to know through their school careers. Living in a small community, educators have come to know each student personally, Sturdivant said.

“All of the teachers and staff are doing an incredible job,” she said. “They’re doing their very best to reach out to students.”

Teachers contact students through email, online class settings and by phone. Counselors are working through scholarship applications, and community support efforts are also underway.

Sturdivant praised the community’s support for all the students during this trying time. She supports murals for senior students or displaying graduates on banners throughout town. She stressed the need, however, to be safe and healthy in all community displays of support.

Several students expressed their gratitude for the community support, as well, and how the high school staff has handled the crisis.

Senior Emily Frey, a student representative on the Eatonville School Board, said the teachers and staff have been incredible with answering emails and making sure students stay well connected. Seniors Andrea Hutchings and Tyrese McElyea agreed.

The teachers and staff are willing to communicate outside school hours and are making sure students are OK with their work, mental health and in general, Frey said. McElyea said the school staff has been great at accommodating the fact he does not have a printer at home.

The students additionally thanked their counselors for working with them toward graduation and helping them apply for scholarships and complete college submissions. McElyea plans to attend a community college, and Hutchings a technical college, while Frey wants to major in global politics and social justice at a university in the fall. Frey hopes to give back all the support she has received now and throughout the years to people who need it most.

In addition to academic struggles, the students all said they have struggled with social isolation, fears about the virus and an unknown future for graduation.

Frey said it is a struggle not being able to spend the last few months of her senior year with her fellow classmates and teachers.

“It’s difficult not having those experiences as a senior with my fellow seniors and even saying goodbye,” Frey said.

McElyea said he worried his mother, a single parent, would lose her job or that he will get the virus. He said, as an only child, being home alone can be socially taxing. He’s grateful his mother kept her job but misses his friends and teachers.

“It’s been a big change,” McElyea said. “I can’t really see any of my friends that I hung out with every single day.”

Frey said the situation has been devastating, but because she can't do anything about it, she’s taking things one step at a time. She encourages her fellow seniors to stay strong.

Hutchings said many schools are attempting to do Zoom graduations but hopes that Eatonville High is able to meet for final farewells. McElyea hopes things return to normal soon so he can attend graduation and see his friends again.

Sturdivant said she hopes things will soon return to some normalcy and wants to see everybody at a graduation event in person. She doesn’t want to hand out diplomas to students through a computer screen, she said.

“I want to see their faces, cheer for them and celebrate their accomplishments,” she said in a recent announcement.

Graduation is scheduled for June 13, which will not change unless directed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Sturdivant said. If the CDC doesn’t allow the graduation celebration on the planned date, she intends to schedule graduation for a date where everyone can get together.

“Cruisers, stay strong, stay healthy, keep doing your work and working towards your diploma because we are going to have a great time,” Sturdivant said.

Updates are posted on the Eatonville High School Facebook page and are emailed regularly to parents. Sturdivant welcomes the community to contact her at a.sturdivant@eatonville.wednet.edu.