Q&A: The COVID-19 pandemic from a student leadership perspective

Student Leadership

(Ryan Casey/CHSAANow.com)

Shannel Swiader, a senior at Highlands Ranch High School, is the president of CHSAA's student leadership state representatives. We caught up with her this week to get her thoughts on the COVID-19 pandemic from a student leadership perspective.

Question: We hope you are staying safe during this public health emergency. How are you doing?

Shannel Swiader: I'm doing well. I am missing school and interacting with my peers, but enjoying this time with my family and my pets, especially before heading off to college.

Q: What do you miss the most about the "normal" day-to-day of the school week?

Swiader: I miss seeing all of my fellow Falcons. Connecting with people, whether that's peers, teachers, or administration, on a day-to-day basis was always really fulfilling. I'm glad we live in an age where technology allows us some connection, but it's just not the same.

Q: How are you staying connected to your school community?

Swiader: My student council and I have been doing weekly Zoom calls and been talking a lot over our group message on GroupMe. We are planning a virtual spirit week to unite our student body and give somewhat a feeling of normalcy.

Social media has been an awesome tool when it came to communicating out information about free meals for those needing them, and technology distributions at the beginning of online learning. Using things like Snapchat, Instagram, and Twitter has been efficient.

Q: What are you seeing from schools and students across the state to help their communities?

Swiader: I've seen a lot of virtual spirit weeks. These include days like "Bring Your Pet to School" or "Fancy Day." Typically student councils have had their students take pictures of themselves dressed up, and then repost their pictures.

Douglas County High School awarded free food delivery for the student with the best picture or outfit each day.

Rangeview High School did a mental health week. They encouraged students to take care of themselves by participating in activities like painting, cooking something they’ve never made, or enjoying the outdoors (safely, of course).

Mountain Vista High School ordered signs for all of their seniors with the hashtag #we'reallinthistogether for them to post in their yard. They also ordered a bunch of yard signs for students of all grades to grab to help unite their community.

Many schools are making sure their student body is staying connected and doing okay in their own ways.

Q: If you could share one message with your fellow seniors, what would it be?

Swiader: I would tell the other seniors that this situation isn't all bad. Many of us are going off to college, starting a full-time job, or going into the armed forces in a few months. We have been given some extra time to slow down our crazy lives and spend time with our families and pets before we have to leave.

Also, this online learning format is very similar to what many of us will experience in college. We will have this kind of independence, and this experience lets us establish that work ethic early so we are ready to go in the fall.

I've been applying for tons of last-minute scholarships with my extra time as well and I'd encourage others to do the same. Get as much as you can so you won't have to pay it off later!

Don't get me wrong, it stinks we don't get our senior proms and our graduations will look a little different, but high school isn't all about the last quarter.

I encourage them to reflect on their last four years, take time to thank those who have helped them get to where they are, and stay grateful for the amazing times we did get to have.

Q: If you could share a message with other student leaders, what would it be?

Swiader: I would tell other student leaders to bear down right now. This is a weird time, but it's a time to thrive. Your communities need you right now more than ever. It is important to stay connected, be creative, and check on your classmates and teachers.

It's easy to be a leader when everything is laid out for you, but you can shine when times are uncertain. Take advantage of this opportunity.

Q: What are you looking forward to doing most when we start to get back to some level of normalcy?

Swiader: I can't wait to connect with my friends. I've been doing a lot of Zoom calls and Netflix parties, but it's just not the same as in-person contact. I'm glad I do get to see their faces, though, even if it's just through a screen.

Q: What have you learned most about leadership in the last couple of months?

Swiader: I've learned it's really important to stay positive in difficult situations. When you have a good attitude, people around you and people you talk to are more likely to shift their perspective on things. A positive attitude helps in every situation. It's also a lot easier to get things done when you and those you're working with have good attitudes. No matter what is happening, there is always something to be positive about.