District modifies senior celebrations for COVID-19 safety

Ellie Cohen

Guest Reporter

District administrators, teachers, parents and community members have modified the end-of-year graduation celebrations for the Class of 2021 to meet expectations as well as COVID-19 guidelines.

Modifications have been made in regards to graduation, the senior recognition ceremony and the senior parade.

Principal Kristin Robbins said that graduation will be held Sunday, May 30 at 10 a.m. She explained the outside ceremony will be slightly different, with the stage now on the north end zone of the football field, rather than the middle of the field facing the home bleachers.

Robbins said that people can now utilize both the home and visitor stands, in addition to seniors being able to use the entire field to spread out more. The number of people in attendance is being monitored to ensure that social distancing will be possible, she noted.

“Right now we’re telling [students] for graduation you have four tickets for every family, but our hope is that we can offer more than that,” Robbins said.

Students will receive their tickets during the graduation rehearsal, occurring Friday, May 28 at 10 a.m., and the school will be putting together a survey to ask families about how many tickets they might need so that the school can have an accurate number, she said. Robbins explained that she is concerned there are important people in graduates’ lives that won’t be able to attend because of these limitations.

Robbins said that seniors always have the ability to opt out of any events that make them uncomfortable because of the virus. For anyone who isn’t able to attend graduation, the event will be livestreamed for public viewing on either the district’s Youtube or Facebook, she said.

The time for graduation was chosen with potential weather issues in mind, as rain is always an issue, she said.

“If we have it at 10 a.m. and it’s raining, we can bump it to noon, or we could bump it to 2 p.m., so it just gives us a little more flexibility to move because there is a desire to have it outside,” she said.

Robbins said that other school districts have made similar modifications to their graduation events. Some districts have decided to have drive-thru graduations, so in-person is a big step for Bexley, she noted.

Graduation isn’t the only event planned as this school year ends. The traditional senior party held at Jeffrey Mansion on the evening of graduation is still supposed to take place, Robbins said. She explained that the party after graduation isn’t a school-sponsored event, but parent-funded and developed.

“[There’s] lots of food, music, awards and gift cards that they award throughout the evening,” Robbins said. “It’s a really nice way to end the graduation day.”

An additional event to recognize the class and the end of their senior year is the parade. Last year’s senior parade was a new event organized by parents and will occur again this year, Robbins said. The parade will take place the Saturday before graduation, which is May 29, at 10 a.m., she said, and spectators will line up between Drexel Avenue and Cassingham on Fair Avenue, then turn right onto Drexel, where the seniors will be. It will be a “reverse-parade,” again, with the graduates standing on the sidewalk while teachers and community members proceed down the street, she explained.

Specific blocks of the sidewalks will be assigned to groups of around 10 students so they’re able to safely spread out, Robbins added.

“I don’t think that the distancing part will be that much of a concern, and being outside helps as well,” she noted.

Robbins said that the senior recognition ceremony also faced adaptations in order to fulfill safety protocols. The ceremony traditionally takes place as a school assembly, and all upperclassmen, including seniors’ family members, are able to come, she said. However, she added this year, the school can only have guests and parents in the building after school hours due to COVID-19 safety standards.

This year’s ceremony will be Monday, May 24 after school from 3:45 to 5:15 p.m. in the high school auditorium, allowing participants to have their parents there, she said, and only the seniors being recognized will be able to attend the ceremony.

Robbins noted the difficulty in planning these events as everyone involved was trying to fulfill students’ anticipation while also following safety precautions.

“Managing expectations within the community and for kids has been a challenge constantly,” Robbins said.

She explained that health and safety issues didn’t only go through her, but also through a watch team consisting of medical professionals from the community and administrators, teachers and parents.

Last year, there was so much unknown in regards to the pandemic, Robbins said.

“We did not do a great job of communicating in a timely fashion [with] what we were going to be able to do,” Robbins explained.

Because the end of last school year was impacted by COVID-19 as well, Robbins noted that students’ most formative high school years were affected. She expressed her sympathy for everyone and their experiences and loss that may have arisen due to the pandemic.

“I would like to think, walking away, that Bexley High School supported them differently than we have in the past, but consistently with what we’ve done for all kids,” Robbins said.

Senior parent Megan Brown said she’s glad they’re having graduation. She added that she feels confident that the school will do everything in its power to make things as safe as possible.

“I was just hoping the seniors would be able to walk through a more or less typical graduation as much as it can be this year,” Brown said.

Senior Rakiya Katagum said she thinks the modifications of the events are better than they were last year.

“This year more family members can go, and it’s outside so it kind of feels normal, like how it was the previous years,” she explained.

Senior Phillip Martin expressed his concerns over the potential cancellation of some events but said he hopes they will follow through with what’s currently planned.

“I’m hoping they’ll make the events as normal as possible and they’ll do the best effort that they can to honor all the seniors,” Martin said.

Robbins noted that normalcy was an important factor in the planning and execution of the end-of-year events.

“Every single decision we’ve made we’re working to make sure that they have as much of a traditional ending as possible,” Robbins said.