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St. Paul VI Catholic High School in Fairfax senior class has adapted a lot these past few months. They were patiently awaiting many events including prom, Baccalaureate Mass and graduation. Since it’s Paul VI’s last year in Fairfax before moving to Loudoun, the seniors also were looking forward to spending their final months of high school in the building they had called home for the past four years. The coronavirus situation brought all of these hopes to a sudden halt.

However, Paul VI has done an excellent job rising to face these new challenges. Students have been engaged in online learning since March 19. Teachers have gotten creative and found new ways to engage their students. Deacon Tom Grodek’s honors physics class is studying frequency, and students conducted their own labs at home. “None of this matches being face to face with my beloved students at school, but in making this a very worthwhile experience I credit my students' professionalism and willingness to learn,” Grodek said.

The sense of community is still very strong, even while everyone is apart. Seniors will decorate the front doors of their houses to display all of their accomplishments, favorite activities and future plans. Photos will be sent to the student government, who will award prizes including televisions and gift cards to top entries. Additionally, every Monday has been designated a “Spirit Day.” Students, faculty and staff dress up for the theme of the day and post on social media to win prizes. Some themes include “Decades Day,” “Animal Day,” “America Day” and “VI Man Day.”

Social media has been a great way for students to stay active in their faith while not physically at school. Under normal circumstances, the senior class would have had a Mass at the beginning of May to crown a statue of our Blessed Mother and place carnations at her feet. As it was impossible to gather in person this year, Father Stephen Shultz, chaplain, streamed Mass in the Fairfax chapel, displaying the statue of Mary with a carnation for each senior surrounding her. Father streamed morning Mass four times a week with an afternoon Mass on Fridays. There was a rosary every Monday afternoon; the May 18 one was dedicated to the Class of 2020.

Seniors have also been using social media to stay connected with friends while they are apart. Instagram was flooded with pictures of would-be prom dresses, socially distanced birthday parties and college spirit wear. A “pvi2020seniors” Instagram account is updated frequently with “Senior Shoutouts” including pictures of seniors, their chosen college and desired major.

“Facetime, online Uno, and phone calls: we're keeping in touch and having fun,” said senior Samantha Jones. “Even though I can't see them in person, I still get to spend time with my friends, which I'm incredibly thankful for.”

The Class of 2020 did not expect to be celebrating with a virtual Baccalaureate Mass or graduation May 27. There is still hope that these events, along with prom, will be held in person when circumstances allow. But for the moment, seniors are bonding over an experience few classes have ever encountered before.

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2020