Photography by Jessica Turner

Other high school students might have taken the summer off after they lost their internships because of COVID-19. But not Courtney Bell. Never one to let her circumstances distract her from her goals, she decided to do research and continue learning on her own when she wasn’t able to work with a cardiologist in McKinney like she had planned.

That’s just one example of how Bell, who’s involved in the biomedical club at Ursuline Academy, responded to the unprecedented past year.

Unlike many other high school juniors, Bell was fortunate enough to be able to tour a couple colleges she was considering, Loyola Marymount University and Santa Clara University, in late February and early March 2020. Some Ursuline alumnae showed her libraries, dining halls and even some popular student spots off campus. 

“It was really crazy to see how empty the colleges were, because it was maybe a handful of students on campus compared to how many they have whenever school is in session and they’re fully in person,” Bell says.  

Then there were social events and traditions at Ursuline that Bell missed out on after the transition to virtual learning. She still hasn’t worn the dress she bought for prom last year. 

And the move to distance learning itself was an adjustment. Teachers at Ursuline successfully taught students how to use Microsoft Teams and other digital tools, but as good as technology is, Bell acknowledges talking to someone on a computer screen isn’t the same as talking in person. 

“That whole in-class situation is kind of transformed whenever you’re online and just looking at people through a screen,” Bell says. 

After a few weeks of online-only instruction at the beginning of the year, Ursuline began allowing students to attend classes in person part of the time, using a hybrid format. 

“I left feeling the most engaged I’ve ever felt in a class after so long of being online and just having those virtual classes, and so it really was a boost, I would say, academically, psychologically as well,” Bell says.  

Ursuline has worked to put on some of the events seniors anticipate, such as the winter formal, the Snowball. The school also pushed back the powder puff game, which normally takes place in November, to this spring. 

Earlier in the year, Bell, who’s a student council member, helped some first-year students acclimate to their new school and begin to form connections with each other in an event called Froshfest. She asked about 20 seniors to get involved, including in a panel discussion where they answered questions and gave advice to the youngest class. 

“Those are the things, too, that really help the seniors as we’re getting ready to graduate, just have those great memories of high school that we’ve had every single year just so that this year doesn’t seem less than or too different than the rest of our high school experience,” Bell says. 

By May 1, after narrowing down the six schools she was admitted to, Bell had to decide between Santa Clara and Fordham University. She’s considering a variety of factors, including the safety and culture of the campus and surrounding areas, diversity, student activities and, in line with her focus on her future, the format and success rates of the pre-med program and the availability of job and internship opportunities nearby. 

After she graduates, she wants to use the summer to spend quality time with her friends and family. And she’ll be preparing for college – picking out dorm decorations and maybe landing an internship or an opportunity to shadow a doctor. 

“We don’t know about travel yet,” Bell says. “But we will see.”