Dripping Springs ISD seniors make the most of the final weeks of high school as they cross the virtual finish line

A photo of a row of locks with a quote superimposed over them. The quote reads: "It's disheartening because this is the time that my peers and I worked so hard for throughout our high school careers." - Riley Wheaton, Dripping Springs ISD Senior
Dripping Springs High School seniors like Riley Wheaton are adjusting to a new reality. (Chance Flowers/Adobe Stock)

Dripping Springs High School seniors like Riley Wheaton are adjusting to a new reality. (Chance Flowers/Adobe Stock)

When Dripping Springs High School senior Riley Wheaton first heard that Dripping Springs ISD would be taking classes virtual following spring break due to concerns with the spread of COVID-19, she felt concerned. However, she figured things would work out so she and her friends could return to school in April or May to enjoy their final semester in high school, she said, and she appreciated the opportunity to have time to weigh her post-high school options with college decisions coming up.

“While it was a little upsetting, it wasn’t too difficult,” Wheaton said.

However, the virtual learning period at DSISD continued to be extended, with the announcement eventually coming down that schools would not reopen before the end of the school year in compliance with a state order from Gov. Greg Abbott. Wheaton and her peers would not be coming back, and many of the rite-of-passage milestones they expected to have as seniors were canceled.

“It’s disheartening because this is the time that my peers and I have worked so hard for throughout our high school careers,” she said.

Graduation ceremonies have been postponed indefinitely, as has the annual DSHS senior girls’ powder puff game. To the chagrin of many students, the long-awaited senior prom has been canceled.

“A lot of the girls already bought prom dresses back in December, so people were not very happy,” senior Maverick Walker said. “But there’s some things you can’t control, and this is one of those things.”

Wheaton, Walker and other students have worked with administrators to try to create some alternative experiences for seniors and other high school students.

Walker, who belongs to a leadership organization with students, DSHS administrators and district representatives, said his group is thinking about a possible celebratory experience similar to prom that can be offered to seniors in the summer.

Wheaton, who is student body president, helped organize a virtual spirit week with student council, encouraging students to post motivational quotes, TikTok dances, photos of personal workspaces and photos of tacky outfits—a spirit week classic.

While Wheaton said these efforts have helped her to feel connected to other students, she admits it does not feel quite the same.

“I’m a very social person, so I do miss seeing people in person. That’s a huge thing for me,” she said.

Academically, senior experiences have also been turned upside down. Aside from classes going virtual and teachers moving to pass/incomplete grading, many students are also preparing for Advanced Placement exams that offer a completely different testing experience, leaning on shorter, online free-response tests instead of group, in-person multiple choice tests. Additionally, several key senior academic requirements have been removed, including the submission of senior portfolios.

While disappointed, both Wheaton and Walker are trying to focus on the positive, including the opportunity to enjoy more self-paced learning and individual contact with teachers. Both also said they have appreciated the support of their community and district, who have made efforts to honor seniors with new traditions, such as turning the lights on at Tiger Stadium on Friday nights in honor of the class of 2020.

One thing is for sure, Walker said—this experience will be memorable.

“[My parents] don’t remember a thing from their high school senior year. I’m sure we’ll be able to remember this for the rest of our lives,” he said.
By Olivia Aldridge

Multi-Platform Journalist

Olivia hosts and produces Community Impact Newspaper's podcasts, The Austin Breakdown, The Houston Breakdown and The DFW Breakdown. She launched the podcasts after nearly three years as a reporter for the newspaper, covering public health, business, development and Travis County government for the Central Austin edition. Olivia worked as a reporter and producer for South Carolina Public Radio before moving to Texas.