WILLIAMSBURG— On a recent afternoon, Olyvia Lose, 18, sat on the shared patio of Seasons Restaurant and Stephanos Pizzeria in Williamsburg and was unequivocal in her opinion of high school.
"I am going to miss everything," she said. "I love high school."
The senior was less than two weeks away from graduating, and she warned that she might cry.
Lose was surrounded by other members of the Class of 2016 from area high schools who had come together for a roundtable discussion. Some nodded in sympathetic agreement as Lose warned of the prospect of tears.
Others shifted in their seats, wondering what they had signed up for.
The mandate to the seven students: Naval gaze. Talk about high school. Talk about the future. And if a few tears come, that is OK. (No tears were shed.)
The following graduating seniors took part in the roundtable discussion:
Note: The student scheduled to attend from Williamsburg Christian Academy did not come to the discussion.
Although some of the students agreed with Lose's assessment of high school, the majority proved that few transitions in life are as eagerly anticipated as the transition from childhood to adulthood.
"I've definitely been feeling this growing independence, especially ever since I got my driver's license," said Hood. "I am out of the house all the time and I am completely autonomous, just rolling around doing my own thing. Luckily my mom trusts me enough to do that."
Bryant, said she is looking forward to "the freedom to be your own person."
Kruegler said she was looking forward to being in class with students who "are passionate about what they are going to learn because they are paying to be there."
And even Lose said she was looking forward to leaving behind "people who are kind of immature."
In spite of their excitement as they begin the next phase, the students all spoke fondly of their high schools.
Ague transferred to Walsingham during her sophomore year, and she said her classmates and teachers welcomed her instantly.
"There are only 37 of us, so we are ridiculously close," she said. "As soon as I came, everyone was so welcoming. I didn't expect that from a school where everyone had been going there their entire life."
Donkor, who moved to the United States from Ghana four years ago, said he would miss everything about Bruton. He said playing sports opened up the door to all sorts of friendships, and it gave him the chance to play soccer at Old Dominion University next year.
Several students are concerned about how to handle life away from parents, mentors and friends.
Hood said the small classes at Providence afforded him individualized attention and that he was able to stay after school for extended help in math any time he needed it.
As he prepares to transition from a class of nine to a class of over 10,000 at Texas A&M, Hood said the hardest adjustment for him would be, "Not having that safety net to fall back on. I'm going to be 21 hours away from home."
And although Ague may be staying in town to attend William and Mary, her parents are moving across the globe to South Korea.
"It will be hard not having them to go home to if I need advice," she said. "That is going to be really hard for me. I tell my parents everything."
Lose pointed to her yearbook teacher as being the guiding voice she would miss the most.
"She has taught me to open my eyes and see things in a completely different light than I did before," Lose said. "It's going to be really hard not having her there to give me advice and see things from a different point of view than my own."
How to best learn
The students in the class of 2016 grew up in a confusing time in education. They entered school during the "No Child Left Behind" era, so it is likely they have taken more standardized tests than any generation before them. But at the same time, schools are in the midst of rethinking the best approach toward teaching.
"21st-Century learning," which emphasizes projects, group work and technology has become a buzz-word in education.
The interior architecture of the planned new middle school in Williamsburg-James City County will reflect these ideals, and a program called the Pathways Project starting at Warhill High School for 100 freshman in the fall will eschew traditional methods for a more experimental approach.
Administrators say the Pathways Project will allow students greater flexibility in their class selection and will emphasize pursuing subjects that interest them.
The students had mixed opinions on experimenting with the structure of high school.
Some, like Lose and Donkor, said they wanted to see high school restructured to help students discover their passions and focus less on rigid universal standards. Lose said the Pathways Project is an example of the change that needs to take place in education..
"They are redesigning (school) to be more focused on the student than focused on the standards," she said.
Lose said the current model of high school is geared toward either "the really smart or the really dumb, and then everybody else gets the short end of the stick."
And Donkor said his father was a good example of why it may be beneficial to do away with broad standards.
"My dad is a mechanic. He can open up a car and look at (it) and fix everything that is wrong with it," Donkor said. "But when he got here he couldn't read and write, so he couldn't get a job he really wanted."
Donkor said schools should be more innovative because students may have abilities not demonstrated by passing a test.
But Ague said a more rigid structure was necessary.
"I think that (flexibility) is what college is for," she said. "I think there are a lot of kids who need the structure (in high school)."
And Kruegler said students should have to take classes that may not interest them because that will prepare them better for life after school.
"Life after high school isn't just selecting what you are good at," Kruegler said. "Spanish may not be my favorite subject, and I may not be good at it, but I have to learn how to pass it. I have to learn how my brain works so I can do the best I can in a class I have to finish. It teaches you how to set a goal and reach it."
Morgan was home schooled and therefore removed from SOLs, 21st-century learning, and everything in-between. She said she feels well equipped because of the unique home school experience.
"We went from home school classes where it is a lot of moms and they kind of baby you to professors at a community college where everybody is on their own," she said. "I like that and feel like that has prepared me well for college."
Growing up online
Graduates of the class of 2016 were six-years-old when Facebook was created, eight when Twitter debuted and 13 when the photo-sharing app Snapchat took over teenagers' phones and web browsers.
In other words, they are pros at navigating social media.
"(Social media) makes it really easy to talk to different people because you aren't really in front of them," Donkor said. "You can say anything you want."
But several had experienced the dark side of social media.
Lose, who is the editor of her high school yearbook, said she felt the wrath of Twitter last year when the Warhill yearbook had spelling errors and typos.
"People just ripped us to shreds on social media. It was just the worst," she said. "My best friend didn't show up to school that week. It was the worst thing I thought I could go through."
Others said they had helped run their schools' Twitter accounts and were surprised at how nasty the student body was toward the administration.
Hood said he saw through the image people – including himself – tried to project online.
"You can know things about people, but you only know the things they put up there," he said. "When you get on the Internet people put on this mask thinking people can't see through it."
The students agreed that everyone uses Snapchat to make their lives look better than they really are, and Twitter is where people are the most aggressive.
The students are optimistic about the future their generation will create.
Morgan said current teenagers will be the ones to settle upheaval in the media industry.
"Our generation will have to figure out media distribution. Especially with music and news. Right now there is the very physical world and the very electronic world," she said. "We still have CD's but I-tunes is very popular, and we still have newspapers but online is very popular. We are kind of running both of them. Eventually we kind of have to find a way to bring them together, or choose one or the other."
She said teenagers tend to look for a variety of sources for information, often using YouTube and social media to get an array of opinions on current events.
"Because of that we have a lot of different opinions and thoughts put at us, but at the same time a lot of them might not be very valid, and we might be hearing some things that are false," she said.
Hood believes his generation will focus on developing artificial intelligence technology that will touch every aspect of life.
"Google is pushing driverless cars, smart this, smart that, you have a smart dryer, a smart air-conditioning unit," he said. "All these things that will be controlling smaller parts of our lives to take the burden off of us. Helpful technology will be coming a lot to the forefront."
Kruegler believes students from the Williamsburg area will focus on medical innovations.
"I think a lot of kids at Jamestown…and in the Williamsburg area are passionate about medical research," Kruegler said. "They have seen in their families that things like cancer can really hurt a family. When you see it in your community it makes you passionate about it."
And as the seven pondered the impact their adult selves would make, many pointed to one of the first opportunities they had to influence the world as adults – November's presidential elections.
"It is going to be an interesting (first) election for us to vote in," said Ague with a smile. "We have had some interesting government classes."
McKinnon can be reached at 757-345-2341.
• Ali Ague, 18 – Walsingham Academy, who will attend William and Mary
•Patricia Bryant, 18 – Lafayette High School, who will attend James Madison University
•Sharif Donkor,18 – Bruton High School, who will attend Old Dominion University
•Thomas Hood, 18 – Providence Classical School, who will attend Texas A&M
•Anna Kruegler, 18 – Jamestown High School, who will attend Loyola University Maryland
•Olyvia Lose, 18 – Warhill High School, who will attend Virginia Tech
•Renee Morgan, 17 – Home school, who will attend Regent University.