PHS Seniors, Athletes and Performers Confront School Closure

Kids are grieving the loss of opportunities while staff work to support them.


 The normally active spring campus of Peninsula High School stands idle for the first time in its 73-year history. Photo: Chris Konieczny, KP News

Despite starting on the other side of the world, the novel coronavirus and the disease it causes, COVID-19, reached Washington state and the city of Gig Harbor. Those in the Puget Sound region have seen businesses close and restaurants switch to takeout to enforce state-mandated social distancing. Facilities such as the Tom Taylor YMCA and Key Peninsula Civic Center have shut down until further notice to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. But the most impactful local change may be the closure of Peninsula School District facilities.

Gov. Jay Inslee ordered all schools in the state of Washington closed from March 17 to April 24 — a target that was pushed back further to May 4 before the governor announced April 6 that school facilities would not reopen at all this term.

“We didn’t think it (coronavirus) was going to impact our season,” said senior PHS baseball player Reid Sturn. “We were prepared for our first two games to be shut down, but not all of them.”

High school baseball is a spring sport, usually running from mid-March until late May with a postseason appearance, but it looks like training camp and tryouts might have been all for nothing.

“Our team got news that if school got shut down, the season would be too,” Sturn said. “It’s not just about winning a state ring, but it was about playing with the boys around you that you have been playing with since you were 8 years old.” Sturn is committed to Linfield College next year, where he will become a Division III athlete. It was looking like there would be a new championship banner hanging in the PHS gym until coronavirus dictated a change of plans.

Soccer season has been hit hard too. The PHS boys soccer team was geared for a run to state this year, led by senior captains (and brothers) Grayson and Evan Janson. It was looking like there would be a new championship banner hanging in the PHS gym until coronavirus dictated a change of plans.

“I just want to play so bad,” Grayson said. “I don’t want to think about the season being over, it’s my senior year. I’m very excited about this team.”

It’s not just athletes taking the brunt of the cancellations. The PHS band was preparing for state competitions at the Tacoma Dome. Senior tuba player Zach Wedel qualified. “The shutdown caused by the virus forced all of my concerts, festivals and even state competitions to be canceled.” This was his “first and last opportunity” to experience state competitions, he said.

The award-winning theater arts department at PHS was gearing up to put on another huge musical this year, “The Hunchback of Notre Dame.” The outbreak has “set us back,” said theater student Claralynn Hammel, but the teachers and actors are “so in love with the musical that there is actually a condensed version we can do, so there isn’t as much to choreograph.” The department had the condensed version ready if they got a chance to perform.

Since gatherings of large groups are prohibited and schools are closed, the district resorted to online learning. Most students at PHS have been using the website Schoology since they were freshmen. It can be thought of as Facebook for schoolwork.

Schoology has been praised by teachers and students alike, and is the only touch of familiarity both parties have had since schools closed. PSD has also started using Zoom calls for the first time. Zoom is an online forum that can create a virtual classroom. A student can see teachers and classmates on his or her screen, while the live feed of their own camera displays their face on the other end.

Educators are doing everything in their power to make students feel like they are not isolated and to ease into the new learning process. But from some students’ perspectives, it still isn’t enough. Photo: Ted Olinger, KP News

“I still have no idea what’s going on,” said PHS freshman David Takahara. Like many others, Takahara is still adjusting to online learning.

Peninsula Junior Kira Lenzi agreed. “Zoom doesn’t work with online school. I only see the teacher’s paper for a few seconds. I’m learning nothing,” she said.

But as the only remaining piece of normal school that students are used to, Schoology is also where staff update students and check in on their well-being.

Assisting seniors with graduation is a top priority for Joseph Potts, Ph.D., still in his first year as PHS principal. “We have been in (almost) daily communication with the central office and teaching and learning staff members to consider ways to enable seniors to graduate,” he said.

In an attempt to prevent the class of 2020 from becoming the class of 2021, Potts stressed that “we need our seniors to continue to move forward and finish their semester with the learning designed for them.” And there will be a graduation ceremony for seniors. “The seniors deserve a celebration and recognition, and we are determined to provide our students the very best ceremony possible,” he said.

Daniel Shurr is a Peninsula High School senior committed to Washington State University in Pullman where he plans to study broadcast journalism. He lives near Vaughn. Read more of his work at