Despite the unique challenges of the global pandemic, Thomas Jefferson High School still succeeded in continuing the school’s mission to learn, challenge, and lead.
The 2019-2020 school year brought a series of victories to the Spartan community. TJ welcomed several new staff members—restorative justice counselor Emily Lupo, PE teacher Alex Alcala, Spanish teacher Jamie Trimarchi, social studies teacher Marianna Barclay, social studies teacher Dakota Trammel, social studies teacher Nic Long, science teacher Justin Kaplon, dean of instruction Adria Tate, and Denver Scholarship Foundation advisor Emily Webster—who were an immediate success. The high school was featured in multiple pieces by Denver7 and 9News, with special attention given to TJ’s efforts to combat the stigma around mental health. TJ even had the distinction of being the first ‘Cool School’ honored by 9News’ school appreciation segment. As the final few months before summer approached, Spartans prepared to celebrate their achievements with the annual Backyard Bash, talent show, and graduation ceremony. Coronavirus, however, had other plans.
On Friday, March 13th, 2020, TJ students departed their school for an extended spring break that quickly transformed into half a semester of online learning. Though the social-gathering restrictions instated by state and federal officials had not been imposed since the Spanish flu 1918, TJ students and staff were quick to adapt. “I think that students have been resilient and have tried to make the most of the situation,” noted Stacey Fornstrom, a CCT Magnet teacher. Given that TJ boasts an award-winning communications and technology program, it is not surprising that many students embraced the new online-learning format. Still, computers cannot replace the warm atmosphere of the high school. “Talking to icons, it is difficult to have the same interaction as in the classroom,” admitted English teacher Sean Silvers. “If I feel it, I am sure students feel it as well.”
Still, the Spartan community is doing everything it can to maintain a positive outlook. The Spartan Edition crew still releases daily webcasts, editing together clips from various students’ homes. The Spartan Social Distancing Edition continues to inform and amuse during these trying times. TJ even released a Prom ‘20 video showcasing this year’s senior class in their would-be Prom attire. As students continue their learning via the Internet, construction workers are using this time to complete the renovations that were initiated last summer. Everyone is trying to make the best of these once-in-a-century circumstances.
“I hope we are back to normal in the fall,” Silvers expressed. “But I fear we will be doing remote learning. It is just not feasible to have social distancing in a high school.” Fornstrom has also tried to temper his expectations. “Unfortunately, I am pessimistic about being able to have school as it used to be in the future,” he asserted. “I have been reading lots of reports and I think that group gatherings are still months away.” The teachers are loath to continue online learning, fearing their memories of their pupils’ smiling faces will be replaced with those of small icons featuring selfies, cute animals, and spongebob characters (to name a few). Students, likewise, have found their scholarly motivation to be much more fleeting now that their beds are five feet away rather than five miles. Nonetheless, parents, students, and staff are committed to preserving the health and safety of the community, so TJ Spartans are bearing the burden with good grace. “Most TJ students have adapted very well, but I always worry about the students and what is going on at their homes, both with their physical and mental health,” claimed Principal Michael Christoff. “I hope that everyone is able to take care of themselves and that they feel comfortable reaching out if they are in need of help—not just academically but social-emotionally as well.”
The future remains uncertain. Denver Public Schools is working closely with health officials to plan a safe reopening of schools. The district currently expects to develop a system that combines in-person and remote learning, and they are currently conducting a district-wide student survey and parent survey available in English, Spanish, Somali, French, Arabic, Amharic, Burmese, Nepali, Vietnamese, and Russian that will asses Denver families’ experiences with online learning. All decisions about the future of DPS will be made with the welfare of every individual Denverite in mind. For the latest updates on Denver Public Schools’ plans for the next school year, consult the DPS News Release archive. “As I wait to get more information as to what is safe and realistic, we will plan for how the fall will look,” stated Christoff. “Things are constantly changing so sometimes taking a step back and waiting for the dust to settle a little is the most logical way to approach things.”
No matter what world-altering events hit TJ next, one thing is certain: Spartans will remain resilient. The camaraderie and friendship fostered back when people could be less than six feet apart from one another will persist even as students and staff isolate in their homes. Though the coronavirus will likely have very lasting impacts, this year of uncertainty will not be able to mar the lifelong memories that have been made at Thomas Jefferson High School.