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Harwood Union HS senior Adam Porterfield reflects on 'remembering how to be a human being' after COVID

 A young person smiling in a school hallway. They're wearing a sweatshirt with a scene of blue sky and red rocky mountains.
Kevin Trevellyan
Vermont Public
Adam Porterfield is an 18-year-old from Waterbury and a senior at Harwood Union High School.

Around Vermont, high school seniors are about to graduate. For many of them, this was the first year that the pandemic didn't profoundly affect their school days.

We wanted to get a sense of what it was like to go back to "normal," and to understand what really matters to teenagers about to head into the world. So we asked some students at Harwood Union High School in Washington County to document what they found significant about their senior years, and worked with them to produce a series we'll be airing all week.

Today, we'll tag along for a day in the life of Adam Porterfield, an 18-year-old from Waterbury.

We recommend listening to this story if you can! We've also provided a transcript below.

Adam Porterfield: All right, it is a Friday, and I'm on my way to school. I'm going to be going to meet with my middle school mentee. Then I'm going to have AP literature, band, AP statistics. And after school, I'm going to be going to coach soccer with Capital Soccer Club. And this is my last year with the club, since I will be graduating, of course.

Yeah, so I'll be back when I'm at school.

[sounds of students talking in school hallway]

Most people going into their senior year, they tend to take it down a notch. But in typical-me fashion, I have a full schedule this year. Like some people might call me more of like a teacher's pet. I do value academics. I think that's gonna get me far in life, hopefully.

But COVID-wise, it's really felt like the most normal year, no masks, no weird schedule things. It felt like the start of my freshman year again before everything went downhill.

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I'm off to AP Lit. We walk in and we have so much energy, we're gossiping. That energy also translates to books we're really passionate about. Whether we love the books, and we're just so excited to talk about everything going on. Or we hate the books, which has happened a lot with Frankenstein, Hamlet was a good one that we really hated.

I'm a STEM person. But this class has really given me a new appreciation for literature and the arts and English, because it's just so fun to be passionate about something like that. And I'd never really saw that in any classes I had before.

[sounds of band instruments warming up]

I think my favorite class might really be band. Band this year is especially fun. It's the band teacher's last year, so he's kind of letting loose a little bit and it's a good time in there.

[someone says "Mark down the tempo"]

So I play the tenor saxophone in band, and I play classical piano outside of band.

[sound of saxophones]

I just enjoy it. It's a big part of my family, like I always knew I was gonna be involved in band and playing piano.

[someone counts down and the band begins playing]

Learning music is a totally different way to learn. It's a totally different perspective. And there has to be some value there. In band you really need to be listening to everybody. That's what Mr. Rivers, my band teacher's always saying: "You need these two things on the side of your head, you're listening to the whole band. That's all you need today. Be a part of something bigger than yourself."

[stringed instrument playing]

My freshman year was a little more strict. Like pre-COVID we really had a stronger music program, we're still recovering from COVID, because you lose a lot of numbers because of that, trying to play over Zoom.

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[Adam Porterfield interviewing classmates: "All right, a few seniors are working with VPR to get like, time capsules that might be heard on the radio from our senior year.

Student one: That's so cool.

Adam: Yeah, it's pretty cool. This is a wordy question because I tried to get certain answers.

Student two: Trying to manipulate us.

Student one: Gas light!

Adam: Yeah. A little bit of gas-lighting. How have Bruce, Mr. Rivers or any other people or programs in the department inspired your involvement or pursuit of music?

Student one: That's a great question.

Student two: That is a good question.

Student one: OK. Well, I think that like you need good teachers for students to keep up with something. Like I know a ton of people dropped out of chorus or band after COVID. And I think that's definitely due to like ...

Student two: ...they weren't like physically doing it. Because they weren't, they didn't have that push...

Student one: COVID took away like the best part of music, which is collaboration. And like in chorus, I remember, we couldn't do anything. We just had to like, stand six feet and we can only sing outside together. It was like literally — it was actually terrible. I remember the first time after COVID had finally kind of opened up a little bit, we could finally sing together. And we were singing this like silly song, just something that we prepared and were singing and I just started bawling. Because I felt like, so — just this huge rush of emotions, because I could finally do my favorite thing again.]

"I wish adults understood that coming back to high school after COVID for students is a full process of kind of remembering how to be a human being again."
Adam Porterfield

Adam Porterfield: Being around my peers has definitely been something I didn't realize I was missing in COVID. I'm definitely an introvert and I really loved remote learning. I could be totally on my own schedule.

Once I came back to school, just meeting new people again, being surrounded by people, saying hi to them in the hall, is really valuable. And what I wish adults kind of under — I'm not going to say kind of — I wish adults understood that coming back to high school after COVID for students is a full process of kind of remembering how to be a human being again. A lot of social skills, I've had to kind of recover and build up again. They do not come naturally for me, I really have to think about what I'm doing.

[teacher saying "is this scenario a binomial distribution?"]

And then as a senior, just coming back from COVID, the thought of turning around and going out into the world after a very rocky high school experience is a little daunting. And there's some degree of not really knowing what I'm getting myself into. What college will be like. And there are people joking online, like, you have your doctor doing surgery, but they were the class of 2021, 2022. And they had COVID, and they were just watching Tik Toks. It might be really challenging to fully have all the skills that a class that did not have COVID has.

After I graduate, I'm going to look back to high school, and think about all the teachers or peers that have kind of shaped me to become who I am.

I enrolled at Union College in Schenectady, New York. It's a really small college, which is really exciting to me, kind of being in a more personal relationship with teachers — or professors, I should start saying. And I'll be studying engineering there.

Doing math and physics and equations just works for me. I like having a right answer. But engineering is a little more creative, which I think there's a little bit of that to me as well. I have a long history of engineers in my family, so it's cool to keep that going.

This story was produced by Kevin Trevellyan and Anna Van Dine. And special thanks to Kate Youngdahl-Stauss, a teacher at Harwood Union who facilitated this project.

Have questions, comments or tips? Send us a message.

Anna worked for Vermont Public from 2019 through 2023 as a reporter and co-host of the daily news podcast, The Frequency.
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