By Ally Lanasa, Staff Writer
Board of Education and teachers plan to celebrate seniors with virtual events
(May 21, 2020) With the May 6 announcement that public schools in Maryland would be closed for the remainder of the academic year, administrators at Worcester County high schools have developed new graduation schedules to honor the 2020 seniors.
Chief Operations & Academic Officer for Worcester County Public Schools (grades 9-12) and Chairperson of the Graduation Committee Dr. Annette Wallace said the district level graduation committee will recognize the seniors at the three high schools with a virtual celebration.
A local videographer and graduate of Worcester County public schools will film the Stephen Decatur, Pocomoke and Snow Hill commencement ceremonies.
All of the graduates will receive a copy of the video and it will be uploaded to social media to have a watch party at a later date.
“We have heard our seniors’ voices that they want to celebrate together, which is why we came up with these celebrations that will happen over the next couple of weeks, but we need our community and our seniors to also recognize that our No. 1 priority is their safety and our No. 2 priority is celebrating them,” Wallace said. “We have to keep them safe first, and that’s something that school administrators—regardless if we’re living in a pandemic or not—the truth is, safety really is first.”
In addition, each high school is planning senior activities that adhere to social distancing protocol. The high schools have their own graduation committees and have received feedback from students and parents about how to celebrate.
“The graduation events aren’t just commencement, and I think we all probably get caught up in commencement because that’s the biggest one, but we have our senior awards nights and each of our schools is going to be celebrating those differently,” Wallace said. “Our communities partner with us to do a baccalaureate service, so each of our three high schools is going to be doing something virtually with that as well.”
Stephen Decatur High School has shifted to several virtual events, including the online baccalaureate spearheaded by Pastor Dan Turing and a radio broadcast of school-based senior awards.
The Bill Baker and Jessica Show on Power 101.7 was slated to play the award ceremony with interviews and shout-outs from 6-10 a.m. on May 19.
A video of the awards ceremony will also be uploaded to Decatur’s social media. “We’re creating a YouTube video of all the teachers giving their awards, which I think is great for our students to be able to see their teacher they are getting the award from,” Principal Thomas Sites said. “It’s usually the department chairs who will give out a lot of these awards to clubs [and] to different organizations through the school.”
For the first time, Decatur will host a Boardwalk commencement parade.
“Our graduation ceremony has always been in the [Roland E. Powell] Convention Center,” Sites said. “It’s a great ceremony. We have them up on the platform, on the stage. We give 10 tickets per student, so there’s upwards of 2,500 to 3,000 people in there, but of course with what’s going on today that is not a possibility.”
Seniors asked Sites to avoid a virtual commencement. The Decatur administration considered how a class of 295 students could gather while practicing social distancing.
With a Boardwalk parade, the students would remain in their cars but still be physically together to meet the students’ desires.
“We’ve been working on this for about three weeks now, trying to figure out the best way that we could recognize our seniors and make it special for them,” Sites said.
Sites was inspired by students in Florida, who are crossing the finish line in their cars at Daytona 500 and receiving their diplomas.
“I thought, ‘Wow that is neat. That’s neat to them because that’s where the speed race is located. What’s our unique thing we have around here?’ We have the Boardwalk, known throughout the region and really the country, so this was our way of doing it.”
With the Ocean City Boardwalk and beach reopening on May 9, Sites said “It kind of fell in place.”
A date and time for the parade is to be announced.
Although the 2020 Decatur graduating class is not having a traditional commencement ceremony, the students will receive their caps and gowns.
On Friday, May 22, regalia will be distributed to students while they stay in their cars.
Similar to Decatur, Pocomoke High School has scheduled a regalia pickup day for Thursday, May 21. Seniors will wear their caps and gowns for modified outdoor commencement ceremonies from May 26-28.
The students will participate in staggered graduations that comply with social distancing rules, such as scheduling the students 10 to 15 minutes apart, said Principal Jennifer Rayne.
Rayne and her 92 seniors have prioritized upholding the school’s traditions during these unprecedented times.
The soon-to-be graduates gave the Pocomoke administration a wish list of three items that would make their commencement memorable and incorporate customs.
“One was that they wanted to be able to graduate before the end of the school year, and I appreciate that. I understand that many of them want closure and that also keeps it as normal as possible,” Rayne said. “The other thing that was on our seniors’ wish list is that they cross the stage and have that traditional experience. And then finally, the last piece was that they wanted to celebrate together and celebrate with the community.”
To fulfill the graduates’ final request a senior car parade around Pocomoke City is in the works.
“The parade, which is going to be our culminating event, is going to be the opportunity for our seniors to celebrate together, celebrate each other and for the community to recognize them,” Rayne said.
The date has yet to be determined, as the Pocomoke administration awaits changes in the social distancing and stay-at-home orders.
Likewise, Snow Hill High School’s car parade, coined ‘A Little Pomp Under the Circumstances’ for the graduation song, is pending approval.
As for its commencement, Snow Hill is planning a staggered outdoor ceremony called ‘Soaring through Graduation.’
The 66 graduating students will drive to the school, exit their vehicles to participate in a video recording inside the facility, then walk across the outdoor stage to receive their diplomas.
Families will have the opportunity to take photos, then the new graduates will turn their tassels. Then, they will be asked to return to their vehicles and exit the venue.
Students who are waiting their turn will be able to blow their horns and celebrate their classmates, said Dr. Kimberly Purvis, principal of Snow Hill.
“One of our visions was to meet the needs of our students and our families by providing a commencement exercise that would give parents and students two things and that would be a face-to-face encounter as well as recognition and celebration among some of their classmates,” said Purvis.
In addition, Snow Hill planned to host a virtual senior awards ceremony on Wednesday, May 20 at 6 p.m. and a virtual baccalaureate on Wednesday, May 27 at 6 p.m., both via Zoom.
“We will have community presenters at our graduate awards night,” Purvis said. “This is giving the opportunity to organizations to see the students they awarded, and the students will be able to thank those organizations for investing in them.”
As the local high schools adjust their graduation plans, throughout Maryland there has been debate about the 54-page recovery plan, which State Superintendent Karen B. Salmon released on May 6, that details the possibilities for the state’s schools when they reopen.
“I think that the recovery plan has caused quite a stir … The recovery plan doesn’t start in September,” Wallace said. “There isn’t a start date on the recovery plan, so we are very hopeful that the recovery plan is going to start this summer.”
Currently, Worcester County Public Schools is developing a recovery committee, Wallace said.
“We’ll have a district level team … when it’s appropriate [we’ll be] bringing in some stakeholders, our parents, and probably likely some of our students to get some feedback from them about what some of our thoughts are,” Wallace said. “But, certainly, as we move forward in [recovery], our most vulnerable students are at the forefront of our minds. Our struggling learners are at the forefront of our minds, and then also providing opportunities for advancement and enrichment for our high performing students, so we are committed to producing a very comprehensive recovery plan.”