When siblings Grace and Jacob Shepard walked into Milton High School in September, each had different ideas about how the school year would go.
There would be tests, homework, fun times with friends, high school football, winter break and homecoming. Jacob, a senior, was looking forward to graduation and making lasting memories with his classmates.
Neither expected a pandemic to cut the school year short.
The Shepard family experienced just how serious COVID-19 could be when Grace, a 16-year-old sophomore, was diagnosed with the disease caused by the novel coronavirus.
The siblings and their mother, Lisa, moved to Texas a few weeks ago after their father, Jonathan, was transferred there for work.
During the moving process, which occurred just before spring break, Grace came down with a cough. She dismissed it as allergies.
Then came the fever and trouble breathing. The family took Grace to a doctor and found out she had COVID-19 and pneumonia.
“For me, the pandemic felt real, but it didn’t really feel like I could ever personally be affected by it,” Grace said. “And then when I was diagnosed with it, you know, it was definitely very scary.”
No one else in her family showed symptoms, and Grace made a full recovery without having to be hospitalized.
“I got very lucky,” she said.
Instead of returning to Wisconsin to sell their home, Grace and her family quarantined themselves in their new home in Flower Mound, Texas, just north of Dallas.
They played board games, had long talks and spent lots of time together.
Jacob said it was difficult to watch his younger sister fight the disease.
“It’s hard. It’s life and death,” he said. “It would be super tragic if something had happened to my sister, but we got through it as a family.
“It really did make the pandemic seem more real than it currently was to me, and looking back at it all, I’m just very thankful we came out of it healthy, and we didn’t have to seek more medical attention. … I’m just very grateful.”
The Shepards are finishing the school year online in the Milton School District. Grace will enroll at a new high school in Texas this fall. Jacob will come back to Wisconsin to study business at UW-Madison in fall.
Jacob celebrated his 18th birthday in quarantine. While it wasn’t as fun as a traditional birthday, he enjoyed spending the day with his family and receiving surprise Zoom video chats from his friends.
He and his sister say they fight just as much as any siblings, but they believe this experience has bonded them.
“All the fun times I’ve had with my family in this time and how I feel, like, it’s brought us closer together,” Grace said. “There was a period of time where we were building a ton of puzzles and stuff, so that was fun. … It’s definitely tough, but it’s brought us closer together as a family.”
“During these COVID times, I’ve realized how important family really is,” he said. “You always kind of take all of that for granted until it’s real and something threatens the people closest to you. So I think that’s the most important thing I’ll look back on.”
Grace and Jacob’s final year at Milton High School didn’t end the way they had hoped, but it gave them both fresh perspective and a lot to be thankful for, Jacob said.
“These may seem like bad times, but you can always find good times in the bad times,” he said, “and I think that as much as the COVID times have sucked, it has allowed me to realize a lot of things I don’t think I would have realized without it.”