Continued teen partying during Covid-19 threatens Pelham’s health—and school traditions

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Dan D'Adamo

A moment captured from the 2020 PMHS Olympics.

Some Pelham parents believe going to “the woods” is a rite of passage for Pelham students, but that’s not an excuse for the reckless, dangerous and illegal behavior kids take part in at Split Rock Golf Course in the Bronx. Giving teens the idea that they can trespass, litter, consume alcohol while underage and vandalize private property isn’t setting them up for the average high school experience, it’s setting them up for a bad future. Not only is consuming alcohol underage and in large amounts dangerous on its own, but combined with a pandemic, this behavior can have deadly consequences to the community as a whole.

We’ve spent nine months facing the disease, some of them with our state shut down. Westchester is losing lives daily, and yet students still believe it is tolerable and reasonable for them to attend house parties and large gatherings in the woods.

It’s well known that there are videos and photos of students partying in the woods on social media. But, as always, parent outrage is just temporary and Pelham teens do not change their ways: It’s water under the graffiti-ridden bridge. There are numerous Instagram posts, Snapchat stories, VSCO photos and TikToks showing groups of Pelham Memorial High School students gathering in large groups, without masks, with alcohol in hand. 

I asked one PMHS student for some insight on these parties. “There’s usually (a party) every Friday and/or Saturday, so roughly six to eight each month. There’s around 10 to 30 kids if it’s a house party, but the woods has too many kids to count… parties are a mix of all four grades and mixed cohorts, while seniors and freshmen have been more independent.”

The same kids who attend these parties walk the halls and sit next to me in class, a day after they were playing beer pong (without masks) in each other’s basements. Meanwhile, what are parents doing while their kids are hosting house parties every weekend? Why are students not being punished for hosting these parties over these past months? Pelham students and parents alike must be held accountable for this problem.

Those hazy nights in the woods are incomparable to the energy created in the school during Olympics week.”

While Pelham students are partying every weekend, the pandemic rages on. So far, there have been 1.7 million Covid-19 deaths recorded worldwide. Those 1.7 million people were real people, not just statistics. They were somebody’s somebody. Pelham students’ selfishness is causing the virus to spread in our community amid a global health crisis, and it is not okay. We cannot let the introduction of new vaccines be the excuse to stop social distancing and mask-wearing. 

If 1.7 million casualties weren’t reason enough to make a change, let’s think about what is at stake for Pelham high schoolers, specifically. PMHS has many traditions that have arisen from its 99 years educating students. Homecoming, which normally would have been a school-wide, in person event, went virtual, a disappointing part of the opening of a new school year. Although the school’s student association (SA), myself included, worked hard to make the event enjoyable, it wasn’t the same as sitting in the bleachers, cheering on the sidelines or playing on the field during the homecoming games. The spread of Covid-19 in our community destroyed those plans, and forced the students to have a fully virtual pep rally. 

Without a doubt the most cherished Pelham tradition is the annual PMHS Olympics. With the Olympics coming up, the SA is working to modify the event to comply with coronavirus guidelines. However, with the rapidly growing number of Covid-19 infections in Pelham, the high school could close at any minute, for any amount of time. The likelihood of a shutdown increases if students continue to consistently gather without masks—and then Olympics will not happen.

“It’s anxiety-inducing to be depending on everyone else for things like prom and graduation to even have a chance,” PMHS President Sophia Leung said. “The SA is really trying to push to make the Olympics feel as normal and inclusive as possible, coming up with ways to maintain distance and limit gatherings.” 

We cannot continue to live in the fantasy that allows PMHS students think that following Covid guidelines is optional. Along with the possibility of the Olympics being cancelled, proms and graduation are also on the line. If we, as a student body, and as a community, want those activities back and to have a “normal” high school experience, we must change our ways.

Pelham students foolishly assume that people won’t see or care about Instagram posts, Snapchats and TikToks, but these parties are happening and being documented, and Pelham parents are choosing to ignore them. We can praise Laura Caruso, Pelham Together executive director, for saying what needs to be said about the lack of attention to the youth of Pelham, but praise cannot be the only outcome from her statements. Change must happen, and it starts with the parents that allow their children to go out to parties during a pandemic. Parents and students alike must rethink their decisions and change their ways. 

Will adults make an effort to prevent this behavior? And students, you might feel as if throwing parties during a pandemic and trading your mask for a beer is worth it, but in the long run, it isn’t. Those hazy nights in the woods are incomparable to the energy created in the school during Olympics week.

We can curb this virus and spend the rest of our lives making the memories we lost during the days of the pandemic. We can choose to wear a mask when with friends, we can choose to social distance, we can choose to save the lives of others and ourselves, because that’s the bigger picture. We can be a part of the solution. We can do this together.