By Lisa Capitelli
(Jan. 21, 2021) High school seniors – last year and this year – have missed out on many of the rites of passage that they look forward to, because of covid-19. So to boost the spirits of local 12th graders, the community has come together to support the “Adopt a Stephen Decatur Senior” campaign.
Tracy Brittan Tilghman created the “Adopt a Stephen Decatur Senior 2021” Facebook group on Sunday, Jan. 3, after it was announced that Worcester County Public Schools would not be returning to in-person learning following the holiday vacation, to abide by the Worcester County Health Department’s request.
Students started returning in small groups on Tuesday, Jan. 19.
Tilghman said while talking to a friend who is a teacher in New York, she mentioned to her that her high school did an adopt a senior program for the 2020 class last year.
“[She said] how much fun it was and how the seniors just loved it and it brought up their spirits,” Tilghman wrote on Facebook.
“I went through their Facebook group and I was overwhelmed with what they [did],” she said last week.
With the success of that program, she decided to launch an initiative locally to support Stephen Decatur seniors.
“My daughter is a senior, and I just thought, ‘These poor kids, I want to do something for them,’” she said. “My daughter [Emily] thought it was a great idea, so I put her in there first.”
At first, Tilghman said she wasn’t sure how the project would be received, but to her surprise the community has responded overwhelming well.
“I started it one week ago and I can’t believe it – it’s just taken off like crazy,” she said last Monday.
She first invited about 10 parents to join the group, and then “it just exploded,” she said. As of Tuesday morning, the group had 827 members. It is a private group, so once someone is “invited” to join, he or she has to be accepted by Tilghman or one of the other moderators.
Parents or guardians can post their senior’s full name, picture(s) and include a little something about them so they can be “adopted.” Those who don’t have Facebook can have another parent post for them.
“If they’ve been posted, they have been getting adopted,” Tilghman said.
Once a senior is posted in the group, they can be “adopted.” Those who wish to adopt that senior should comment under the post. After that, the adopter should send a private message to the family that created the post in order to coordinate a drop-off or mailing of surprises for the senior.
“The parent has to OK the adoption, and it’s working so far,” Tilghman said.
Seniors can be adopted by more than once person. People can also adopt multiple seniors.
Because of privacy laws, the school cannot give out names, so Tilghman acquired a 2020 yearbook – when this year’s seniors were juniors – to compile a list.
“The goal is to get all of the kids adopted, and we’re [more than] halfway there,” Tilghman said.
Stephen Decatur Principal Tom Sites said this year’s graduating class consists of 332 students. As of Tuesday night, 205 have been adopted.
“I think it’s great they’re doing something for the seniors. They’re getting cheated out of their senior year. Most of them haven’t stepped foot in school this year,” Sites said. “Bringing up their spirits is huge right now. Anything we can do to bring some normalcy.”
Sites, who is the parent of a sophomore and a senior, said as a parent he is involved just as much as a principal.
He said last week that his wife planned to submit a post to the group for their senior to be adopted.
“We want to make sure every kids is adopted. We don’t want to have any kid left out,” he said.
Members of the community, parents and even Decatur alumni and teachers have adopted students.
“A lot of kids are getting adopted by teachers. They’re saying, ‘I remember when I taught’ him or her,” Tilghman said.
In the Facebook group’s announcement section, Tilghman posted some gift ideas for the graduating class, with each month having a theme. It includes: January: sports and snacks; February: music and must haves; March: SDHS logo items Class of 2021; April: get prom ready with flowers, cards, hair and nails; May: graduation 2021 items, signs for their yard, stickers for cars, school logo items; and June: OC/military/college apparel with logo.
“Whatever they want to do. These kids are so excited to be getting stuff,” Tilghman said.
Her daughter, Emily, has been adopted by several people.
“When my mom first told me about the idea I thought it was something very cool, but I was skeptical if people in the community would be as excited about it,” she said. “It’s taken off and grown so quickly. I think it’s interesting the community has come together for this.”
Emily said many of her fellow seniors have asked her questions about the initiative, and once they learned more, they became excited.
“They think it’s nice people are thinking about them,” she said. “The [Facebook] group is made for everyone. They want to makes sure all are included before graduation.”
Online schooling can be monotonous, but when receiving treats from her adopters, Emily said “it brightens up my everyday life.”
Emily, who hasn’t been back to the school since March, said she tries to look on the bright side. She enjoys interacting with her classmates during Zoom classes.
“It’s a nice way to get to talk to them throughout the day,” she said.
Sites said he had a Zoom meeting recently with class officers and National Honor Society officers to discuss “what they wanted and what we can do for them.”
“My goal is to do as much as possible to get them the celebratory things [they would typically enjoy as seniors],” Sites said. “Senior year is the most exciting year in school and I’ll try to do everything in my power to make it the best it can be.”