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Seeking a sense of normalcy in the final semester

Thor Melby finishes out his final year of high school despite the coronavirus pandemic taking away any semblance of a normal school year.

Glenwood Springs High School senior Thor Melby at his home near New Castle.
Chelsea Self / Post Independent

“We know we won’t forget it because it’s not going to be a normal graduation.”

Like many other students around the county, Thor Melby was left to roll with the punches as the novel coronavirus pandemic quickly swept around the world taking away any semblance of a normal school year.

“One week it’s (coronavirus) in the U.S., then it’s in Aspen, then within two days school was canceled, sports were canceled,” Melby said. “I haven’t even been able to go back into the school to get some of my stuff.”

Melby is a senior at Glenwood Springs High School and is set to graduate at the end of the month. He played football and lacrosse and participated in ROTC all four years at GSHS while also taking part in 4-H since the age of 9. Over the years in 4-H he has taken part in different categories ranging from rocketry to poultry and woodworking. Melby has also served on the county council for the last two years and is currently the alternate senator.

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The fair board is still deliberating whether or not the 2020 Garfield County Fair and Rodeo will take place at the end of July. Melby is hoping for the best, however, and has already purchased two market chickens for the poultry competition.

“I would be bummed if it was canceled because I wouldn’t be able to sell my chickens,” he said. “I also want to be able to see everyone one more time at the fair because all of my friends are also graduating.”

Schools initially closed just before the start of spring break in the middle of March, then later closed through at least April 17 before final closing for the remainder of the school year.

“I wasn’t expecting school to be out. I actually missed two tests before spring break, which was a bummer because it would have raised my grade,” Melby said. “I was finally able to get my grade up from a B to an A.”

Glenwood Springs High School senior Thor Melby hangs up his gown in preperation for next week’s graduation ceremony.
Chelsea Self / Post Independent

Many teachers and students were quickly forced to figure out how to teach and learn from home without the social interaction that many students rely on.

“It’s just been boring, I can’t really do it for more than an hour or two at a time. Most of it is Shakespeare and I enjoyed the class in school because the teacher would help us understand it,” Melby said.

Melby’s mom, Kerrie, is a teacher at Riverside Middle School in New Castle and has also been working through the challenges of online learning. She said only about a third of her students have taken part in online class because it wasn’t required and recognizes how difficult it is for a working parent to keep track of the online work. 

“Although, I got to do a lot of one-on-one work with the students that were online regularly and got to know those kids in a completely different manner than I would have in the classroom,” Kerrie said.

“As a teacher, it feels unfinished even though we are on the last week of school. It was weird to walk out one day and not go back for the rest of the year; there’s no closure,” she added.

For the hands-on classes, students were left with mostly busy work because they could no longer use the on campus facilities to complete projects.

“Every teacher had to assign something.  For our woodshop class we couldn’t do anything because we didn’t have the facilities; it’s a very hands-on class,” Melby said. “We couldn’t do anything for the class but they still had to assign work so it was almost like just busy work.”

Many students thrive in a classroom environment with interaction between teachers and other students. Being left to learn at home and on their own has proved challenging.

“It definitely hasn’t been a great learning experience, especially for calculus; I could’ve been so much further ahead and ready for the AP exam,” Melby said. “We had one more day of learning and the rest was going to be review, which I was happy for. I needed the review from the first semester because that was pretty much exactly what was on the test.”

THE FINAL SEASON

The hardest part for Melby was what felt like a swift kick in the gut when the spring sports season was very quickly taken away. For the seniors, this was their final chance to excel on the field.

“That was probably the worst part of the whole thing. I really missed out on the lacrosse season because I was finally going to be a starter. It was a bummer for all of my baseball and track friends too,” he said “That one took everyone by shock because the whole thing happened so quickly.”

From a parent’s persective, Kerrie mentioned how disappointing it was to miss out on her son’s final season of lacrosse. Thor is her youngest child.

“As a parent, it’s over,” she said.  “We didn’t even get to go to the dinners and awards banquet; the stuff as parents we live to do with our children; so that part was hard.”

Other than sports, the disappearance of a social life has hit hard with Melby and his schoolmates.

“I haven’t seen one of my good friends in at least two months when I used to see them every day; it’s just a shame,” he said.

“Some of my friends have gone hiking or outside a lot more. It just depends, I know some people who didn’t leave their houses or go out into the sunlight for over a week. There were different reactions,” Melby added.

Glenwood Springs High School senior Thor Melby organizes his graduation cords in preperation for next week’s ceremony.
Chelsea Self / Post Independent

Graduation for the GSHS class of 2020 is set to take place at the Glenwood Springs Municipal Airport on May 30th with a parade and procession down the runway. To practice social distancing, each student will have a driver and car to themselves and a second car for family to arrive.

“It might be a logistical nightmare but it will definitely be different,” Melby said. “I’m not really too compelled to do it but my mom really wants me to.”

Kerrie wants her son to experience graduation as it is a ceremony honoring them and in this case is a chance to see some of his classmates again, potentially for the last time.

“I don’t think they understand at this time what the importance will be for them in the long-run,” she said.  “It’s like the big finish line.”

Melby’s plans for next fall are to attend Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Prescott, Arizona for a degree in aerospace engineering. At this time, the university is still on track to have classes in the fall.


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