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July 28, 2021

Covid-19 at center of SVHS grads’ memories of roller coaster year

[Coverage of the San Lorenzo Valley High 2021 graduating class will be published next week. — Editor]

Whether it was the wildfires that delayed the start of the school year by two weeks, or the fact that most students until the final two months were stuck at home, Scotts Valley High School Principal Michael Hanson says the class of 2021 faced unprecedented obstacles, and that he’s proud of the graduating Falcons for making it to the school year’s finish line.

“It started off not as awesome as we would like,” he said. “That was a trying time.”

In October, administrators started bringing small groups of up to 12 students and two teachers back. Shortly thereafter, sports teams started holding conditioning sessions, but surging coronavirus cases meant the school couldn’t launch its “hybrid” learning model until the end of March. Only then could they bring half the students back inside their facility, under strict 6-foot social-distancing requirements.

“Teachers had to teach every class twice,” he said. “It is the least effective model that we’ve used this year, but it got a lot of kids on campus.”

Three weeks later, updated health guidance that reduced spacing regulations to three feet meant the school could return to what almost appeared to be a regular classroom environment.

“You can get 28-32 kids in a room,” he said. “Since the last week of April, we’ve been open four days a week for all students.”

Hanson says many of the pandemic workarounds are likely here to stay. Recording and posting lessons is just one element that will probably outlive the pandemic. 

“There are some kids that may want to continue learning from home,” he said.

Return to glory

Jenelle Jacob, 18, found being cooped-up during lockdown really affected her grades. 

“It’s definitely been way more difficult, even though I’ve had difficult years in the past,” she said. “I’m a really social person.”

The fact she was failing biology wasn’t as big of a surprise as when her grades fell off the cliff in English.

“I love English,” she said. “That was kind of sad…It was so much work. It was really hard to keep up.”

She couldn’t wait to get back to in-person learning, and when she finally got to return, the good marks did, too—all the way to A’s and B’s.

“Being able to talk to people again just really helped my mental health and cleared my brain so I could focus more on school,” she said. “I was getting to the end of the year and I just really had to push through.”

Jacob credits school staff for doing their best to help kids deal with the pandemic education reality, despite the snags.

“This year was really hard for teachers, too,” she said. “I’m really grateful that they were super nice.”

Jacob was named homecoming queen. She won students over with the mockumentary she produced about how difficult it is to think up your top talent.

Now, she’s off to DePaul University in Chicago to study film and television.

One of the things that helped her survive an unprecedented year was the unique approach the school took to the fall drama production, “Almost, Maine,” which Hanson explains was done in a socially-distanced fashion.

Jacob got to play a hiker named Glory. She also took on the role of Marci, who argues with her husband Phil.

Jack McHatton played Phil. The 19-year-old says he’s better known around school as Arizona, which is where he used to live. He also relied on drama to help get him through high school, although his pandemic experience was completely different from Jacob’s.

Back in freshman year, during a junior varsity football game, McHatton went after a fumble. His outstretched right arm crunched in the melee. He tore ligaments, severed nerves and got a concussion.

“I was told a couple hours later, if I didn’t take care of it immediately, I could have lost my arm,” he said. “It was a very long healing process.”

He couldn’t play football, even through junior year, and he gained a lot of weight. He says he was exhibiting symptoms of major depression.

McHatton describes using acting techniques to stay positive, even during rough moments.

When Covid-19 upended school plans, he started to work on himself: he fasted intermittently, went on long runs and spent time pursuing different passions, like Dungeons & Dragons.

“Covid, believe it or not, for me ended up being a good thing,” he said, “which is weird.”

When football finally started up again, he was ready.

“I don’t think I would have played football without Covid,” he said, noting his cardio trick was to dream up D&D scenarios while jogging to fantasy music. “I ended up losing 60 pounds over the course of a year.”

The Scotts Valley football team went undefeated for the first time in the program’s history, and McHatton even got picked to play on the regional all-star team.

He plans to attend Cabrillo College while plotting domination of the film industry.

“Put me down for ‘groovy,’” he said.