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National study: COVID made high school class of 2023 collectively rethink academic, career plans

Tyra Kelly gave a grin before answering.

The Clay-Battelle senior, part of the Blacksville school’s class of 2023, was getting ready to line up with her classmates on the football field for commencement last month.

Someone asked her if she was going to beach, given that she had her mortarboard done out with miniature seashells and a cartoon cut-out of a smiling turtle.

“Are you kiddin’? I’m going to work.”

The senior, who also completed studies at the Monongalia County Technical Education Center, was about to report for her first day at WVU Medicine Children’s, where she had just been hired as a pharmacy technician.

In many ways, she reflects a changing trend in academic and job choices demonstrated nationally by her collective classmates, who were freshmen when the pandemic settled over everything in 2020.

Theirs was a high school run marked by remote learning, face masks, social distancing, Zoom proms and quarantines.

At Clay-Battelle, in fact, the football team once had to disembark a bus that was idling and about to pull out of the lot for an away game, after a person associated with the program tested positive for the coronavirus.

Now, the so-named “COVID Cohort” is either joining the workforce – or getting ready to take their steps on college campuses this fall as freshmen all over again.

And the contagion, according to ACT, the nonprofit organization that administers the college readiness exam of the same name, is still getting the last word.

The organization on Wednesday released numbers from a report detailing how the pandemic influenced career plans.

Numbers were garnered from a survey given in September 2022 to a random sampling of more than 1,500 then-seniors nationwide.

Of the respondents, 42% — or four of every 10 – said the pandemic “affected their thoughts” on at least one college choice or career technical education pathway.

That same ratio said they changed their mind related to the above due to both COVID and the future financial burdens of college debt.

Others said the pandemic afforded more opportunity to explore new academic interests.

Morgantown High graduating senior Kayla Bardogna said the same last month before the start of her graduation exercises.

“We had to do so much work on our own,” said the senior bound for WVU. “It made me much more self-directed as a student.”

The ACT report, meanwhile, calls for colleges to provide for more financial opportunities and internships, along with more pronounced assessments to address learning losses wrought by COVID.

ACT’s CEO Janet Godwin said the latter, in particular, is a critical component for any incoming freshman looking back on an unprecedented experience.

“It’s important to recognize how the pandemic’s disruption has affected them – emotionally, academically and financially – as they make important decisions about the first steps of their lives beyond high school.”

For Kael Heinz, a University High graduate who will train to be a paramedic at MTEC this fall, “unprecedented,” was the word.

“We’re gonna have some great stories to tell at the reunion,” he said.

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