Over the past several days, Eastern Alamance High principal Eric Yarbrough has been making his way all over Mebane on a personal walking tour. While following appropriate social distancing guidelines, the first-year Eagles principal has been making door-to-door visits to EAHS’s nearly 300 seniors, providing them a message of inspiration and togetherness during this challenging time in everyone's lives.
“We were just trying to brainstorm something to do for our seniors. We feel bad for them with all the stuff they’re missing - not being in school. Athletics and prom,” Yarbrough said in an interview outside the homes of senior twins Lexi and Riley Beck the afternoon of Friday, April 3. "We’ve moved prom back to the 30th (of May), but that’s wishful thinking at this point. Graduation - we’ve got some possibilities of different plans if we can’t make the June date."
The high school and college classes of 2020 throughout the world will forever be known as the Coronavirus classes. They’ve been cheated out of so many irreplaceable events, it’s arguable that with exception of those whose lives and businesses have been lost as a result of this crisis, the high school and college seniors are the single-biggest victims of the COVID-19 pandemic.
While a paycheck can be re-earned, one’s final high school sports season or Senior Prom cannot be replicated, at least not with the same people in that unique setting. Older high school and college graduates have a much greater appreciation in these times for their own life experiences, while at the same time undoubtedly sorrowful that these deserving high school students will not get their own rewarding life experiences in the coming weeks.
With that in mind, Yarbrough sought out those Eastern High students, whose faces he’s gotten to know so well over his first months on the job, and to bring them a yard sign that they can proudly display indicating their status as members of the Eastern Alamance High School Class of 2020.
The first graduating class is always a special class for a first-year principal, so Yarbrough feels a particular connection to this group.
“We just wanted to do something, because they’re missing their friends,” he said. “So we’ve just been brainstorming, and we thought it would be pretty cool to take them a sign, so not just us, but everybody in the community would know there’s a senior here. It gives us time to come out and check and see how they’re doing."
“Our goal is to hit 35 or 40 a day. We’re doing a couple of hours a day. We’ve got about 290 seniors. So we’re just trying to hit a little bit over time. It’s just fun to come out and visit with them, just check on them and see how they’re doing. Checking with them about online (with schoolwork), to see how they’re doing with online learning. It’s funny - some of them hate it, and some of them love it. Everybody is a little different.”
There are certain core requirements that must be meant in order for the EAHS seniors to be able to graduate later this spring. In order to aid those students who might need extra help, Yarbrough has been working with Eastern’s faculty to make sure they’re in contact with any students who might be struggling at the present time with distance learning.
As a result, Yarbrough anticipates that EAHS will not lose any impending graduates to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“There are core graduation requirements,” he said. “Our student support team and administration, we have a watch list of our seniors. Any of those kids that are struggling to engage online, we’ve done some home visits with them and called, just to check and make sure they have what they need to be successful.”
“English IV, American History II, or a fourth math - some of them have those core classes remaining. We’re just making sure they’re getting those requirements done so they all graduate. We’re in good shape with most of our kids. We were looking at a graduation of around 88-89 percent. We’re hoping to not lose anybody because of this. And I don’t think we will. We’ve gotten in touch with all of them.”
Although the cancellation of key school concerts, athletic events, and award ceremonies has been painful for everyone, there is very good news - no one associated with Eastern High School has been reported to have contracted the COVID-19 unique coronavirus.
“Some (students) are doing great (with online learning),” Yarbrough explained. “Some of them are struggling a little bit with it. But we’re just making sure they have all the resources. The (ABSS) district has done a great job giving us (wireless internet) hot spots to give to some of our seniors, to make sure they had (web) access. That was the biggest thing, honestly - just making sure they had access and laptops. And the district has done a great job giving us the resources to do that. A lot of companies have come out and said hey, it (internet service) is free for the rest of the year. So that’s been helpful, too. And our teachers have done a great job adapting with what they do from the classroom to online.”
“Some of them (the Eastern High teachers) are recording things, so the kids can watch it. We know that if our kids aren’t at school, the chances of them waking up at 8:00 a.m. are probably not very likely. So they record it, and they have dedicated office hours. Most of our teachers teach a couple of prep (courses), so they may have 10 to 11 for Math II, and they also teach Math III say from 1:30 to 2:30 p.m.. But our teachers are always available to set up one-on-one appointments, to give them some tutoring."
Yarbrough added that along with available assistance from Eastern High teachers, he will personally be online every day from 10:00 a.m. to 11:00 a.m. to answer any questions.
The Eastern High principal has been grateful to see the support to the school from local businesses, some of which have provided lunch to members of the EAHS faculty. His gesture to reach out to the Eagles seniors has been very-well received throughout the Mebane community.
“We’re all supporting each other. We’ve had a number of people contacting us and thanking us for doing this. It’s something so little, but I think people are so appreciative of anything right now,” Yarbrough said. “Mebane is a very unique community - which is part of the reason why I wanted to be here (at Eastern High) so badly. They all come together and support each other, and you’ve definitely seen that through this.”