High school sports are a way of life in rural Iowa communities. In a time of COVID-19, athletic activities are becoming more difficult to host and maintain. Today, some events can be viewed online. When the pandemic came, track, tennis and golf were cancelled. Summer brought baseball and softball with extensive provisions for distancing and sanitary procedures.
‘Generational shifting’: How a rural Iowa school district changed busing for costs, staffing, and students’ safety
Vicki and Matt Bruening live on a Floyd County acreage with six children ranging from a sophomore in high school to a fourth-grader. Like others in Iowa, the family makes a living in agribusiness: both Bruenings operate an agricultural repair business in New Hampton, and Matt farms with his uncle on family land nearby.
At home, the family raises goats and chickens, with the help of their kids. When COVID-19 shut down Iowa schools over the spring break season in March, farm life gave the Bruenings the benefit of staying busy — but as time progressed, the family was still concerned whether school doors would open in the fall.
“We were most worried about if they wouldn’t be able to go back at all,” Vicki Bruening said. “It’s been a different kind of school year so far, but it’s also been good to get them back in the classroom, back with their friends.”
Bruening drives her kids to school in the morning as a way to provide more time to get ready. In the afternoon while she’s at work, the family relies on school transportation from Charles City’s joint high school and middle school campus, and one of the district’s two elementary schools.
This piece is part of a collaborative reporting project that includes the Institute for Nonprofit News, Charlottesville Tomorrow, El Paso Matters, IowaWatch, The Nevada Independent, New Mexico in Depth, Underscore News/Pamplin Media Group and Wisconsin Watch/The Badger Project.
Iowa counties with the highest rates of COVID-19 infection are home to large meat packing plants. Part of a collaborative reporting project called “Lesson Plans: Rural schools grapple with COVID-19” in partnership with the Institute for Nonprofit News and several member newsrooms.
Paige Marsh went through five interviews before getting a job offer from a national insurance company, headquartered in Des Moines, back in January. “I have been in touch with the company every month since I signed my offer letter,” Marsh, a senior business administration major at Wartburg College, said. “And then I just got the call about the company freezing all new hires until 2021.”
She will continue to search for work in the meantime. College students, like Marsh, who are ready to hit the job market, now find positions hard to find or internships have been postponed or canceled. The jump to the “real world” is typically full of anxiety and uncertainty for seniors — and this year is no different with COVID-19 unsettling the job market.
A virtually connected group of professionals, Keeping Educated Youth in Des Moines, hosted a webinar April 24. Included were tips for how seniors can go about obtaining a job in a pandemic.
Tips for seniors from the panel:
Network. Getting on LinkedIn and connecting with people who are in your preferred career path is a great start to getting into the industry. Expect hiring to return. Students should expect after the sharp decline in hires that there will be a sharp incline in hires when work restrictions are lifted.
Steve Cook walked into the locker room. The 24-year veteran head baseball coach for Coe College in Cedar Rapids sensed the tension in the air. He was about to tell his athletes their season was cancelled.
“Over 24 years, you’re always going to have a meeting at the end of the year. There’s always going to be a senior class and memories and emotions to work through, but this one was especially hard,” Cook said.
On March 12, college athletics got a jolt: NCAA President Mark Emmert released a statement cancelling all winter and spring championships due to the coronavirus pandemic. Division III athletes and coaches across Iowa waited to see what would happen with the 2020 season, workouts and recruiting.
In the days following, the American Rivers Conferences (A-R-C), Midwest Conference and St.
University of Northern Iowa professor Anelia Dimitrova expected the coronavirus would cause a two-week spring break extension – not a swift end to campus life and the beginning of teaching online. She thought it was odd, she said, when one of her students noted in March that their last class before spring break could be their last meeting in person.
COVID-19 turned life upside-down for Iowa’s 100,000-plus full-time university and college students as a month ago classes moved online. Some struggle to care for loved ones with weakened immune systems, and others can’t find WiFi access to earn the semester’s credits. Still others pay their rent without their low-wage job or worry about an upcoming graduation and job search. “In some ways this virus is like 9/11, where it will impact society and how things are done because of it,” said Kealan Graham, 26, who is pursuing a master’s in elementary education and is home in Greater Des Moines. “I hope this helps people realize how important paid sick leave is, how important health care is, and how important every job is to the function of society.”
The new normal: Uncertainty, disruption and adapting.
Looking back, Jazsime Vanpelt wishes she could have done her freshman and sophomore years differently. Checking her grades multiple times a day, loading too many extracurriculars onto her schedule and unnecessary pressure to do well in school created stress and anxiety in and outside of the classroom. Jazsime Vanpelt, Iowa City High School student (Photo by Jhakyra Banister)
The pressure wasn’t from Vanpelt’s parents. She did it to herself, the Iowa City High School senior said. “I would like to freak out if my grades went down, even a little bit,” Vanpelt, 17, said.
Making good grades is but one of several pressures high school students interviewed for a new IowaWatch High School journalism project said.
The word “college” stresses many high school students, whether or not their resume has enough activities on it, if they have a high enough ACT score, the change of living on their own, or when their applications are due.
And, because someone — them, their families — has to pay for it.
“It makes me feel bad and burdensome because I know that my parents are really stressed about money in general, and I know they want to support me,” Marina Beachy, a senior at Mid-Prairie High School in Wellman, said in an IowaWatch high school journalism project about pressure Iowa high school students face. Pressure when picking a college came up often in that project, conducted in the first three months of 2020 by student journalists at City and West High schools in Iowa City working with their teachers and IowaWatch. Money is a big reason for the stress. ABOUT THIS PROJECT
High School Pressure is an IowaWatch High School journalism collaboration with the award-winning Iowa City high school newpapers The Little Hawk and West Side Story, at City High School and West High School, respectively. Journalists who produced this project, working with IowaWatch’s Lyle Muller and their journalism teachers, were:
Natalie Dunlap, West HighMarta Leira, West HighAlex Carlon, West HighKailey Gee, West HighShoshanna Hemley, City HighJesse Hausknecht-Brown, City HighNina Lavezzo-Stecopoulos, City HighJulianne Berry-Stoelzle, City High
Teachers assisting in this project are Sara Whittaker, West High School, and Jonathan Rogers, City High.This project was supported by a grant from the Community Foundation of Johnson County.
High school sophomores and juniors around the country check what they received when preliminary scholastic aptitude test scores — better known as PSAT scores — are posted in December.
The “what did you get?” and “did you do better than me?” questions follow. Jenny Geng, Iowa City West High School student (Photo provided Jenny Geng)
“I hate the comparison of test scores,” Jenny Geng, 16, a junior at Iowa City West High School, said. “It makes them feel bad about themselves,” she said about students she knows. “But you can’t stop it and it’s going to happen,” she said. “I don’t like it.”
Competition in high school is producing stress for high school students in many aspects of their lives. High school students participating in an IowaWatch high school journalism project this year rattled off a list of ways they compete with one another: how your body looks, social life, academics.