How Rural California Teens Are Rising Above The Let-Down Of A Canceled Summer

Jul 27, 2020

Downtown Downieville in Sierra County is usually packed with tourists in the middle of the summer. But the town is quiet this July, and so are the teenagers. High schoolers experienced prom and graduation cancelations in the first couple months of shelter-in-place and now they’re having to spend the summer inside. 

Mia Martinelli is 14 years old and figured she would be spending the summer after her freshman year of high school hanging with friends and shopping in Reno. But the pandemic has changed a lot of her plans.

“At first my parents were very loose about it. And then it hit them and they were like, you can't go outside. It's too dangerous,” Martinelli said. “I didn't see her for a month and a half.” 

Martinelli is talking about her best friend, Isabel Long-McGie. They’re in the same class at Downieville High School and live across the street from each other. They weren’t allowed to hang out inside until recently, so they would say hi and chat outside their houses, six feet apart, with a fence in between them. Isabel could not get used to it. 

“She would be there waving at me. And I was like, we're so close, but so far apart,” Long-McGie said.

And for Martinelli, too much time at home without seeing friends took a toll. Her attitude changed and she started acting out.

“So I got my door taken off, because I was very rude and I would slam it all the time,” Martinelli said.

James White has also readjusted his expectations for the summer. He just graduated from Quincy High School and was looking forward to a busy, fun couple of months before leaving for the University of Nevada to study animal science. 

“It kind of hit me like a wall. Because every single thing I've done up to this point has been working towards, you know, graduation, the county fair, all of those things. And they kind of have been taken away one by one by one,” White said.

The Plumas-Sierra County Fair in Quincy wasn’t just a social event for White. The 17-year-old has been raising and showing rabbits and poultry for years and was looking forward to his last county fair before moving to college. 

But James still isn’t sure if he’ll be able to move to Reno and live in the dorms for his first semester of college. It all depends on whether or not the COVID-19 numbers continue to rise in Nevada.

“I've lived in Quincy my whole life, a town of you know, a really small town. And I'm excited to go out and see the world and experience diversity and all that,” White said. 

James White stands outside his house in Quincy, California holding the duck he was planning on showing in the Plumas Sierra County Fair in August. The county fair was canceled in May due to rising COVID-19 numbers in Plumas County.Credit Tessa PaoliEdit | Remove

While events were getting canceled for most teens in Plumas and Sierra counties, 17-year-old TyAnna Farmer was making things happen. She heard about the Black Lives Matter movements all across the country after George Floyd’s death and thought, why not Quincy? She decided it was time to visibilize the racism she’s experienced in her hometown her entire life as a Black person. 

“At this point I feel like I've been silent for a very long time. Like, I've been very complacent and I've just kind of watched and let it happen. And then this year, I was kind of like, 'No, I'm speaking up. I'm gonna call attention to the racial injustice,'” Farmer said.

Farmer’s friend Tristan McMichael, who’s a rising senior at Quincy High School, stepped in to help organize the protest for June 5 and spread the word. 

“We just kind of shared a flyer out and it went everywhere,” McMichael said.

Farmer read a poem she wrote about her experience in Quincy’s mostly white schools. About 300 people in masks, holding signs, showed up in support. 

“There were literally people playing music. There were people dancing, like it was awesome. It was so nice and so many people came out to show support. Honestly I think that’s the most support I’ve ever felt in Quincy,” Farmer said.

But even after organizing a huge protest on their own, Farmer and McMichael are also very aware that their last summer before their highschool graduations is being spent at home, in lockdown.

“It's our last summer of being actual legal kids,” McMichael said.

Nina Sparling Contributed to this report.

What’s your story? 

Are you a young person in Plumas or Sierra County, or do you know one? We’d love to hear your voice. Tell us about one thing you are missing during COVID-19 and one thing you are cherishing. Call North State Public Radio’s coronavirus hotline and leave a message at 530-433-9216. We may weave your story into upcoming programming.