Creighton Prep students have seen many changes to their school year, such as having watch parties for sporting events and safe lunch settings. Photo courtesy of Creighton Prep
Creighton Prep students have seen many changes to their school year, such as having watch parties for sporting events and safe lunch settings. Photo courtesy of Creighton Prep

Jim Bopp can still remember when he realized the world would soon be very different: March 7, 2020 at the Creighton University basketball season finale against Seton Hall with 18,000 people jammed into an arena.

“Everybody was kind of just doing their own thing, at least in Nebraska,” Bopp said. “I remember waiting over and over for the state to tell people, ‘Everybody’s got to do this, or everybody’s got to do that,’ and that just never came.”

Once COVID-19 hit the United States in March of 2020, schools at all levels began sending kids home. College sports tournaments were being cancelled.

As principal of Creighton Prep High School in Omaha, Nebraska, Bopp knew he and his staff would need a plan for students to safely attend school. So, the team created a new learning schedule for students (both in-person and remotely), a new lunch system with plexiglass separating students and staff, mask requirements for all and social distancing guidelines. This new system caused both positive and negative side effects for students and faculty of one of the very few all-boys prep schools in the state, Creighton Prep.

The administration team at Creighton Prep knew that the school year would be vastly different. They were aware of the basic CDC guidelines, such as wearing a mask, washing hands, and staying six feet apart from others.

But, other than the CDC guidelines, the school did not hear from the state on any other guidelines it should be following. Prep was not alone in this, as other Omaha Public Schools did not hear from the state either. OPS decided that if anyone was showing symptoms of COVID-19 or had any family members showing symptoms, they could not attend school. Students and teachers of OPS missed many days of school. Ultimately, this led to OPS teaching entirely online.

“It was really examining the CDC guidelines very, very closely,” Bopp said. “And then using some of the state recommendations though, to be honest, the state was not super helpful in terms of giving people real clarity about what they were supposed to do or weren’t supposed to do.”

The new rules affected many people, and perhaps most the students, who some say have started drifting away from their classmates and peers. Senior Ian Krenzer said the lack of class projects has made an impact.

A majority of the school year has been a 50-50 model, meaning half of the student body goes to class in-person one day while the other half is learning online, and flip-flopping the following day. School pep rallies have not occurred, and school dances have been cancelled. Limited seating at lunch. Social distancing in the classrooms and hallways.

“I only hang out with my selected group at lunch and so I don’t really talk to that many dudes that I don’t usually hang out with,” he said. “I think it has definitely had a large effect on us drifting apart.”

The administration at Creighton Prep has seen increased stress among teachers and increased depression among students.

Some guidelines are so restrictive that students cannot interact like they once used to. During lunch, only a certain number of boys can sit at a table, with plexiglass separating them. If students are attending in-person, they must be six feet apart. This has led to classes not being able to interact and communicate, which leads to more significant depression, said Kevin Kaminski, mental health practitioner at Creighton Prep.

“It’s not just mild, it’s to the point where loneliness is greater. Isolation is greater. When we are seeing that depression, it gets to a more severe and significant level for the students. It’s harder to break, because the socialization is down,” he said.

Kaminski recommends taking advantage of the weather and trying not to worry.

“Don’t sit by and say ‘Oh, I’ll go outside tomorrow’,” he said. “This pandemic has taught us that simplicity is the best way to function day-to-day. That is, if you’re feeling sad, reach out to someone, even if it’s not a professional.”