School Closures Mean Stay-At-Home Prom

May 6, 2020

When Mariana Acosta left school one afternoon in March, she never guessed it would be the last time she stepped foot in West Salem High School as an 11th-grader.

“It was really abrupt," she said. "None of us thought that our last day of school would be the last day of school. And I didn’t think that the next time I would go to school, I would be a senior.”

West Salem High School, which is part of the Salem-Keizer School District, closed March 16 as part of Gov. Kate Brown's executive order that initially closed all schools in the state for two weeks. The closure was later extended through the end of the academic year.

Normally at this time of year, Acosta would be busy preparing for competitions with her bandmates. She plays alto sax. The 16-year-old is also trying to figure out where she wants to go to college after she graduates next year.

Another item on her busy spring schedule? Prom.

Even during a pandemic, prom must go on. So West Salem High School set up a virtual prom. Acosta and many of her classmates logged on.

“It was nice to know that we were still making an effort to get together and have some fun outside of school work," she said. "But it was not very intimate. We were just all on a Zoom meeting.”

It wasn’t quite what Acosta imagined. So her family decided Mariana *would* have a prom…at home.

The family sprang into action. First, they got a hand-me-down dress from one of Mariana’s cousins. It needed some repairs, but in a time of social distancing, even that was an added challenge.

“We called a friend from church to fix it, and we dropped the dress off on her porch. And then a couple of days later, it was ready and we picked it back up from her porch, all repaired,” said Mariana's mother, Sarah Acosta.

Mariana Acosta and her boyfriend, Connor Oliver, posed for some "socially distant" photos at a local park prior to their living room prom.
Credit Sarah Acosta

Sarah, who works as an ER nurse at Salem Hospital, cooked up a three course meal for Mariana and her boyfriend, Connor Oliver. The couple hasn’t been practicing social distancing, though Mariana says she’s been very strict about it otherwise. At their living room prom, the pair danced to the music of Ed Sheeran.

Some of Mariana's siblings helped serve the meal, although Sarah said it definitely did not resemble a typical restaurant experience.

“In traditional kitchens and restaurants, the kitchen and the eating area are separate, and the waiters come out and bring you your food and then they disappear," said Sarah. "But we could only disappear to a few feet away, so that was kind of weird.”

Several times throughout the evening, out-of-town relatives joined in the fun on a video chat. Mariana said it was a memorable night…but she’d definitely rather go to a real prom instead.

“In high school, it’s kind of a milestone…something you always look forward to when you’re little, like you imagine your prom dress and your prom night. Even though this was fun, it’s going to be nice to do the real thing,” she said.

Still, it was a welcome change from her new routine of high school from home. Mariana is balancing eight different classes, and she said even though it’s possible to learn online, it just isn’t the same.

“It’s not as fun," she said. "In class you make jokes, and you get that social interaction. And at home, it’s just work. There’s not that extra fun social element.”

For now, Acosta and her 11th-grade classmates at West Salem High School assume they’ll be back in their actual classrooms this coming fall. But in a global crisis, even that isn’t certain.