Like all of the nation’s high school graduates, the Chicago Public Schools class of 2022 has spent more than half of their high school experience navigating the pandemic. But in addition to the challenges of remote learning, families impacted by COVID-19, and interruptions to their social lives, CPS students also had to contend with contention between the Chicago Teachers Union and CPS administration, including two strikes.
“High school itself, we know isn’t easy,” said Lane Tech High School graduate Isabela Ávila Ríos. “And then add on more than one strike and COVID and all that, it made it seem like it was never going to end at one point. Yet here I am two days post-graduation, realizing like it’s all over. It’s all behind me now.”
For CPS class of 2022 graduates Isabela Ávila Ríos, Diego Garcia, Yazmine Puma, and Andre Pedroza, high school was more than a stop on the way to adulthood. It’s where they found support and community.
“There are teachers here who really care about the students and I’m just grateful to have been in the classroom with those teachers and have had experiences with some teachers that ... very clearly cared about me and cared about the community,” said Diego Garcia. “I reflect on that a lot.”
It’s where they discovered new interests and talents.
“You have multiple different types of outlets in which you can show your creative expression and that’s where I feel like CPS actually does a good job,” said Schurz High School graduate Andre Pedroza. “I wouldn’t know as much about music as I do now if not for that.”
It’s where they learned more about who they are and who they want to be.
“When I came into Schurz I wanted to major in business because that’s what I thought interested me, but then I kind of struggled on what I wanted to major in because nothing really caught my attention. Like I’m more of a hands on thinking type of person,” said Schurz High School graduate Yazmine Puma.
“CPS in itself allowed me to start off my activism work that led me to then create the Coalition of Advocates for Undocumented Students’ Education and for it to take off,” said Ávila Ríos.
Looking back, the graduates say every aspect of their school lives was touched by the pandemic.
“The last couple of years, it was a little rough with the pandemic and online school, it wasn’t the best,” said Garcia. “Some ideas don’t translate well through computers, and sometimes I had trouble with the internet connection.”
Garcia said there were changes to his well-being.
“After the shutdown, I felt a little less social. I felt like I became a little more introverted. So that’s something I’m still working through and trying to get past,” he said.
Pedroza also had difficulty with remote learning, he said.
“I would say that COVID legitimately reduced my work ethic. Sometimes there were days where I wouldn’t want to do assignments because I wouldn’t have motivation to do them,” Pedroza said. “That’s when administration here introduced something, I call it the 50% rule. And essentially that’s when teachers were not allowed to fail the students’ assignments. I feel like that 50% rule really like affects students like in this school, especially with their work ethic.”
The interruptions also led to disappointment for student-athletes like Yazmine Puma.
“I’ve been playing sports since freshman year. My mom caught COVID towards the end of my volleyball season. So due to that my volleyball season was cut short. I was really sad about that,” she said. “I wanted to try out soccer for my junior year but that wasn’t able to happen because my dad had COVID and then I had to quarantine basically the entire month.”
And even retuning to in-person school had some road bumps, said Ávila Ríos.
“Virtual learning was hard in itself, but the transition back, since our schools weren’t prepared for that either, made things so much harder with teachers having to change the way they grade or accept work,” she said.
But now with their time in CPS at an end, they all report feeling ready and eager for the challenges that lie ahead.
Yazmine Puma is heading to Illinois State University in the fall to study criminal justice.
“I’m actually very excited. I had to think about it a lot because I’m moving away, I’m going to be living on campus, but I see it as a way of experiencing something new and as a way of like making myself more independent,” Puma said.
Andre Pedroza is attending Harold Washington College to study computer science.
“I envision having a career with computer science, maybe with programming, especially something with video games, because that’s something I’m interested in as well,” said Pedroza.
After a summer working with the National Equity Project, Isabela Ávila Ríos will be matriculating at the University of Chicago to major in political science.
“I think going to CPS really opened up my view of the city,” Ávila Ríos said. “I know so much more just from meeting people from everywhere.”
And Diego Garcia will be going to UIC, where he was accepted into the pre-health pre-science program and plans a career in the medical field. Garcia’s high school was one of the recipients of full scholarships from the nonprofit organization Hope Chicago, an event Garcia called a “once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.”
“I’m going to have to figure out more things on my own and that’s just my main concern, making sure I have everything that needs to be done, done,” Garcia said. “I am unbelievably excited.”