By the time the graduating class of 2022 receives their diplomas this spring, they’ll have spent more than half of their high school years navigating the restrictions and uncertainty that have come with the COVID-19 pandemic.
The pursuit of “normalcy” has mostly been a fool’s errand the past two years, and students and administrators are often left deciding among a number of imperfect options.
As cases spiked following the recent holiday season, and schools once again faced increased restrictions for on-campus events, choices had to be made. The timing of the omicron surge coincided with long-scheduled winter formal dances at area high schools, and there was no uniform solution for each campus.
At Lakewood High, the school had already committed thousands of dollars to the winter formal dance, scheduled for Jan. 8 at Mile Square Golf Course in Fountain Valley. The school decided to forge ahead with the event as scheduled, with additional safety measures in place.
“With all the restrictions coming down, it was like déjà vu to the students,” said Lakewood Activities Director Worren Booth. “They wanted to get (the dance) in before school shut down. They were scared that this was their last opportunity. They told me, ‘We don’t want to move anything or we’ll lose our money and we’ll lose the opportunity of having a dance this year.’ So they were excited about getting it in.”
Lakewood senior Katelyn Kham hadn’t gone to any school dances prior to the pandemic, so this was her last opportunity to attend a winter formal. She admitted to having some nerves about attending the dance given the circumstances but didn’t want to miss out on the opportunity.
“I was honestly really excited because it was my first dance, but I was also a little weary about COVID and everything,” Kham explained. “But the administrators on site were very adamant about the masks and made sure that everybody was wearing one at all times.”
Members of the student council were worried that attendance might suffer at the dance, but the turnout was strong.
“We were a little nervous if people were going to show up or if they would decide not to go,” admitted senior Sydney Goodin. “But honestly, it was a great time because of all the activities. Other than just the dancing, we had a carriage ride and video games and karaoke that everyone tried.”
Booth shared the same sentiment from his conversations with students immediately after the dance.
“They had a great time,” Booth said. “It was positive vibes all throughout the following week with the kids sharing pictures. They enjoyed getting out and being with each other dressed up. There was a lot of school spirit that night.”
While Lakewood went ahead with their formal as scheduled, Wilson High decided to take a different approach. The Bruins were scheduled to host their winter formal on Jan. 29 at the exact same venue but opted to delay the event until March 19. According to Wilson Activities Director Erin Fekjar, it was the students who pushed for the postponement.
“They were the ones who said we need to change it,” Fekjar explained. “They said ‘We want a safer environment. A lot of us are in winter sports or we’re gearing up for spring sports, so we don’t want to get sick, we don’t want to be on the dance floor and everybody getting all COVID-y all over one another, so can we move it?’ And I think that’s proved to be a really good decision.”
While Wilson’s dance was set to be at the same venue–which offers both indoor and outdoor space–the circumstances for each event were very different. In addition to having an extra three weeks of lead time before the event, Lakewood’s lower enrollment allowed for a smaller event. Lakewood’s formal had around 425 students attend, while Wilson was expecting upwards of 700 attendees.
Wilson’s administration will still require proof of vaccination or a negative test come March and require masks to be worn at the event, but the students are hoping things will be safer and more relaxed as we move closer to spring.
“I think the current feeling of what’s happening with omicron, the students decided to take the precautions now,” Fekjar explained. “Because we want to have the most fun night that we possibly can with the least amount of restrictions.”