9 moms tell it like it is

Teens are working through tough times at school, distancing from friends

Teen at home

Social distancing due to COVID-19 is hard on most of us, but for the region’s teens, weeks of separation from their friends can be especially tough. Add to that the delays and uncertainties of high school seniors’ long-anticipated milestones, like proms, senior class trips, awards programs, graduation and college plans, and the situation becomes even more challenging for them.

Coping with cancellations; college planning. Pine Bush resident, Barb Eylers-Mariner’s daughter, Meghan, is a high school senior who’s missing out on her school’s national choir competition in Virginia Beach. Her plans, said Eylers-Mariner, include studying forensic science, possibly at New Paltz State University of New York, Pace University or Purchase State University of New York. While her applications are finished, Eylers-Mariner said her daughter is having trouble getting needed teacher recommendations completed.

Activities also have been canceled for the daughter of Tracy Paige of Wallkill, Anne, a senior at Wallkill Senior High School, including the senior class trip to Universal Studios Florida and Walt Disney World in Florida plus the school’s spring musical production of Cinderella, where Anne was set to play an evil stepsister. Also canceled are the senior class ball, and day trips to Six Flags Great Adventure.

“She’s is up and moving after me and taking it easy and slow,” said Paige. “But she’s getting things done. Working with Dungeons & Dragons is new. She’s reaching out to others and in bed by 11 p.m. or 12 a.m.”

READ MORE: Moms help teens tackle social distancing

The son of Madelyn Nunez of Wappingers Falls, Timothy, a senior at Roy C. Ketcham High School, is dealing with cancellation of the school’s theater play, Matilda, which was going to be his last performance. That’s not all.

“The biggest issue is which college Timothy will attend,” Nunez said. “The key is if school is going to be remote, then it might be best to stay local. We might lose our deposit if he changes his mind.”

Laura Salvati of Wappingers Falls, whose daughter, Chiara, is a senior at Roy C. Ketcham High School, said all her daughter’s school clubs have been canceled, including social justice, honor societies and youth board groups. And then, there’s the stress of college planning.

“The college decision process was stressful,” Salvati said. “We’re delaying thinking about it. She doesn’t want a Zoom graduation. I listen to her; there’s nothing I can say. I give her permission to be upset.”

As well, Dirce Fornelos of Hopewell Junction, whose two kids include son, Brian, a senior at John Jay High School, said he is looking at the University of Brockport, but hasn’t seen the school. Moreover, the family’s taxes still need to be done, which is a requirement for financial aid. Brian’s biggest disappointment, however, is that he can’t test for his driver’s license.

“He has his permit and drives but it’s a huge issue for him,” she said.

Lauren Zorilo and husband Billy of Wappingers Falls, whose kids include daughter, Ava, a senior at Roy C. Ketcham High School, said her daughter is saddened by the cancellation of the school’s track and field program, where she was the captain. Others include the school prom, National Honor Society program, field hockey, and travel teams. Graduation may be held in July, as there won’t be a virtual one.     

“She talks on the phone and uses Instagram,” Zorilo said. “Her friends have drive-bys for their birthdays. Her boyfriend is in Yonkers and uses FaceTime to connect.”

Online and virtual programs keep kids connected to their schoolwork and friends.

Similarly, Carolyn Pallett-Brophy of East Fishkill, whose son, Brian, is a senior at John Jay High School, said all her son’s activities have been canceled, including football and the Dutchess PBA Explorer program, a sheriff cadet offering for high schoolers. After high school, Pallett-Brophy said, he wants to be a military officer or with the law and is planning on school at a community college for a degree in criminal justice. In the meantime, he’s getting in outdoor time.

“He’s an outdoor kid and has been taking hikes and biking on his own and with mom,” she said.

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For Millie Colon-De La Cruz of Wappingers Falls, whose daughter, Mikaela, is a senior at John Jay High School in Wappingers Falls, there’s some relief in knowing her daughter made an early commitment to State University New York Cobleskill, where she plans on majoring in Animal Science for a career as a veterinarian. 

Fortunately, problems related to college have been minimal, said Colon-De La Cruz, with the only letdown being that “accepted student day” will be online instead of the school’s beautiful campus. Her daughter also will miss out on her class’ senior prom, senior graduation, senior trip, senior week activities, College Commitment message being displayed on the high school’s outdoor marquee, senior night as a softball player and all the honors that go with it. As well, the varsity basketball banquet dinner has been canceled.  

“She missed her final year as a varsity softball player,” said Colon-De La Cruz. “This was the year she wanted to shine, and it has been the biggest loss to her, of them all.”

Barbara Jasiel’s son, Joseph, is a member of Arlington High Schools 2020 class and is a member of the US Army, a 68W (combat medic in training) who graduated from basic training and is now at Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio TX. 

“J.J., as we call him, graduated in January but we were hopeful he could walk with his class in June,” said Jasiel. “He would have been able to leave the base at that point in time. “

Keeping up with schoolwork, friends and fun. For most teens, it’s not all about loss but also moving ahead in schoolwork and finding time for fun. For instance, in addition to her schoolwork, Eylers-Mariner’s daughter spends time with the family’s cats, does housework and walks. She’s also learning to bake and making all kinds of breads.  

“I make her a hearty breakfast with hot cocoa with marshmallows and sprinkles” Eylers-Mariner said. “We watch fun movies and walk. We need some dry weather.”

Nunez’ son participates in live Zoom classes four times time a week, including Advanced Placement classes, and connects with friends through Instagram, plays virtual games on Xbox with others and hikes for 30 minutes to an hour daily.

“Other than that,” she said of his outdoor excursions, “he’s not allowed out.”

Outdoor activities done at home and within social distancing parameters can be a great outlet for teens and other family members.

Salvati's daughter is up at 9 a.m. for online classes, although some classes are recorded. There also are “office hours” for her Advanced Placement physics and calculus classes.

“There were lots of assignments at the beginning,” Salvati said, an overload, in fact, including all seven of her Advanced Placement classes. Now that that’s been dialed back and with no other activities, her daughter finishes with her schoolwork earlier than she’d been able to before. She also enjoys collaborations with others through PowerPoint parties. 

READ MORE: Finances: what they don't teach in school

Fornelos’ teen keeps in touch with his friends through texting, plus online games through Xbox, which is new. His mornings, she said, are spent doing online morning classes and, in addition to going for drives, he does Jujitsu through Zoom sessions. His brother plays soccer.

“We got a ping-pong table and they have tournaments,” Fornelos said.    

It’s full days for Zorilo’s daughter, including online college courses, yard work, flute playing and laundry.

“She committed early to Pace University where she’ll play field hockey,” said Zorilo. “We’re waiting on financial aid.” 

As for Pallett-Brophy’s teen, he does schoolwork after lunch through Google Classroom as an Individualized Education Program student, which makes the current situation more difficult for him, she said. 

“He does most of his work on his own but gets support from his teachers,” she said.

Colon-De La Cruz’s daughter stays in contact with her friends through texting, FaceTime, Snapchat, and online video games.  

“Her father engages her in practicing softball, inviting her to watch movies as a family,” she said, “and I  have spent a lot of time talking about the future and college, tons of girls talk, and inviting her to cook with me and clean.” 

Supporting kids. Throughout everything, Eylers-Mariner tries to keep things positive. “Acknowledge frustrations your kids are feeling,” she said. “They are the 9/11 babies. If you are struggling, reach out to others, like friends, clergy. Do mediation. Remember your kids are dealing with a lot.”

For Paige, there’s more emphasis on getting together as a family, including a family game and movie nights.

“We all used to sit down and discuss what they have been doing daily at dinner but now with them all being home, everyone knows what the others are doing,” she said. “I check in daily on schoolwork.” 

Nunez said having patience helps. “If you know when they are on Zoom, don‘t interrupt,” she said. “Put a note on the door. Things have gotten better since the first weeks of quarantine. It’s Timothy’s last semester of high school and we want to enjoy this.”   

The Salvatis play games — a favorite is UNO – and do things to honor their daughter, like making a door decoration for graduation.

“We focus on her mental health,” Salvati said.

And the Fornelos are talking with each other plus sharing more family time.

“We eat as a family, whereas before, Brian was out playing sports,” she said. “My husband has lunch with the kids. We talk.” 

Zorilo has found that it’s best to goes with whatever works well and tries not to upset her daughter.

“There is a future and be happy about moving forward,” she said. “Be positive. Spend more time as a family; play board games together. Create a sense of normalcy. Have your kids do their chores. Remind them that things will get better.” 

For Pallett-Brophy, feeling good is about getting her family outdoors.

“Be sure your kids know they’re not alone,” she said. “This is a rough time for both adults and kids. Don’t worry about not being on a regular schedule. I try to help take the stress off his shoulders by making sure he is able to talk it through. I want him to know his options.” 

And for Colon-De La Cruz, life is about focusing on the moment.

“We try not to get too caught up on everything going on in the news and instead focus on the present and the loved ones around you, making the most out of our time together,” she said.

Terrie Goldstein is the publisher of Hudson Valley Parent.