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High schools explore options for graduation — ‘We’re trying to keep everything on the table’

High schools explore options for graduation — ‘We’re trying to keep everything on the table’



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The last time Trevor Messina and fellow members of Southington High School's class of 2020 met as a group was the second week of March — before their school and others around the region and state closed due to public health concerns around the spread of COVID-19.

Schools have not yet physically reopened, with classes having been taught remotely since then. Winter and spring sports have been disrupted and canceled. Some area school districts had already canceled other activities, including junior and senior proms and theatrical productions. 

What Messina and other soon-to-be high school graduates are hoping for is that they get to cap off their high school careers with something that resembles a traditional high school graduation on the football field or an alternative commencement event. 

“Whether it's in a car, in a drive-in, through a computer, or all together on the field, we're going to have some sort of graduation,” Messina told the Southington Board of Education last week. “We have worked 13-plus years — just to have the best four months stripped away from us.” 

In Southington, Messina serves as a student representative on that town's Board of Education. When he spoke during a remotely held board meeting a week ago, Messina emphasized how important it is that he and more than 500 fellow Southington High School seniors get to celebrate their milestone together.  

But districts, awaiting guidance from local and state health officials, have not yet decided whether to hold in-person graduations or to replace them with alternative ceremonies.    

Gov. Ned Lamont is expected to announce a decision in the next few weeks about the reopening of schools and businesses on May 20.

Southington School Superintendent Tim Connellan said district leaders are looking at a possible combination of events — including a virtual event to mark the end of the school year. 

“We're trying to be very, very, very optimistic about what the end of July, beginning of August, might bring in order to bring actual commencement exercises,” he said. “If there's any possibility at all, we're going to be prepared to do that, so that there is some type of in person commencement experience for our seniors. Virtually all of it is going to depend on what the (state) Department of Public Health and local health department have to say.”

In Cheshire, School Superintendent Jeffrey Solan spoke similarly. District officials are waiting to see if restrictions get lifted or remain in place after May 20. 

If those limitations on large gatherings continue, the district will assess whether to hold a virtual remote graduation for its students, or an in-person graduation with social distancing measures in place. 

“We're looking at a whole spectrum of options for our kids,” Solan said. “We're listening.”

High school administrators have held virtual meetings with members of the class and their advisors, seeking input and suggestions.

“It's not lost on us, your senior year in high school presents a lot of once in-a-lifetime experiences and memories,” Solan said, in reference to the activities that have already been canceled. “We're trying to keep everything on the table.”

In Wallingford, similar discussions with students and district staff are underway. But no decision had been made, School Superintendent Salvatore Menzo stated in an email to the Record-Journal.

Meriden date set

In Meriden, city school officials have set June 12 as the district's official graduation date, regardless of whether schools reopen or not.

“We will work on whatever graduation we can do that is safe for students and families,” said Meriden School Superintendent Mark Benigni.

For now, Maloney and Platt high school principals are taking a wait and see attitude about a formal cap and gown stage ceremony, while also preparing in the event schools are closed.

“We are working on plans and contingencies,” said Maloney High School Principal Jennifer Straub. “We are working with faculty and student representatives.”

Platt High School Principal Robert Montemurro echoed Straub adding that while activities haven’t been cancelled, contingency plans are in the works.

Angel-Lee Hart, a Platt senior and representative to the Board of Education said graduating students at both high schools have set up Instagram pages to announce their destination colleges and study majors. Class President Sydney Bernier and faculty advisors worked on a survey asking seniors for their ideas on virtual graduations. Ideas include, a cap and gown procession through Hubbard Park using cars or social distancing.

“The reaction from the community has been impressive,” Bernier said.

Terri Carmody, chairwoman of the Southington Board of Education, said board members and school officials all want to see a graduation happen. 

“The high school adminsitration is going to make it happen for the kids,” Carmody said, adding it will depend on the guidance of public health officials. 

Meanwhile, the town is recognizing its outgoing seniors. The scoreboard at Fontana Field is illuminated every evening, with the numbers 2020. 

Messina expressed cautious optimism that he and his classmates may be reunited in the coming months.

“Obviously this is not what our senior class expected,” he said. “We are all very hopeful and very optimistic about the future and being able to once again see our friends — whether it’s at school or over the summer.”

Reporters Mary Ellen Godin and Devin Leith-Yessian contributed to this story.

mgagne@record-journal.com203-317-2231Twitter:@MikeGagneRJ


"Whether it's in a car, in a drive-in, through a computer, or all together on the field, we're going to have some sort of graduation. We have worked 13-plus years — just to have the best four months stripped away from us."

-Trevor Messina
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