SCHENECTADY — Schenectady High School is finalizing plans for a virtual commencement ceremony later this month, with likely one of its highest graduation rates in years.
The virtual ceremony will include speeches, student music and the reading of the names of the school’s well over 500 graduates, going live online June 26 at 9 a.m., the day originally slated to celebrate at Proctors.
The school is working with Missouri-based Fogarty Service and Proctors to produce the online ceremony and individualized student webpages that will house pictures and congratulatory remarks for the graduates, senior class Principal Dave Preston said Monday.
The pre-recorded ceremony will include all of the typical components of the high school graduation, with speeches from Principal Diane Wilkinson and others, a color guard presentation by a pair of high school seniors and a careful reading of each student’s name accompanied by a picture. Proctors has facilitated a “clean stage,” so components of the event can be filmed in the historic theater and longtime home to Schenectady’s energy-filled graduation ceremonies.
“It’s going to be really a gavel-to-gavel graduation with the background of that at Proctors,” Preston said.
Before the pandemic forced schools to close, the class of 2020 was on track to mark the high school’s highest graduation rate in two decades, Preston said. While the final numbers won’t be known until later this month, Preston said he expected this year’s graduation rate to top 70 percent and possibly approach 75 percent.
The school plans to distribute caps and gowns – paid for this year by the district – to students on a pair of distribution days June 15 and June 16, and school leaders are still working out the details of distributing students’ actual diplomas and printed copies of the ceremony program as a keepsake. They also will be soliciting the family and friends of graduates to submit photos, congratulatory messages and other words of encouragement to be included on students’ individualized webpages, which will be accessible as part of the ceremony.
School leaders are also already making plans for a one-year reunion, tentatively scheduled to be held at the high school in June 2021, to give the senior class an opportunity to come together and celebrate their accomplishments in person.
“They really wanted to get together to have some closure,” Preston said of the students’ chief desire.
Preston, though, lamented that the fallback plan means he won’t be able to personally greet the students of the class he has helped lead since their freshmen year.
“There are kids I have worked on handshakes with and talked about what we are going to do when I handed them their diploma,” Preston said. “It’s heartbreaking.”
Summer enrichment program to also go online
Schenectady’s annual summer enrichment program also will be forced to go remote-only this summer after Gov. Andrew Cuomo recently barred in-person schooling over the summer.
The district’s summer enrichment program has served over 1,000 students each of the past three years, providing students with 10 hours each day of academics, outdoor activities and three meals.
This summer the program will be pared back to no more than 1,000 students from pre-kindergarten through 11th grade and run for five or six hours each day, said Sara Schneller, who is organizing the summer program. The program faced district funding cuts along with the state-imposed restrictions on in-person education.
But district leaders are hoping to build a summer program that makes the best of the situation, working with teachers, administrators and families to pinpoint things that have worked during the past two months of remote learning and looking for ways to encourage students to embrace their academics in new and fun ways.
“A lot of this for us is about maintaining lines of communication and a platform for teachers to still work with kids, a space for kids to still meet and talk and laugh with their friends,” Schneller said.
The Schenectady-based Museum of Innovation and Science, miSci, for example, will be putting together science kits that can be delivered to students so they conduct experiments from home. A web-based reading program the district has used in past summers will likewise provide students with copies of books they can use at home.
Schneller said about 70 teachers have been hired for the summer program, along with social workers and other staff, with class sizes running around 16 students per class, slightly larger than in earlier summers as the district has targeted small classes as part of the program.
Schneller said students will have a consistent time to log into a classroom meet each day, where they will communicate directly with their teacher and classmates, but that students will also be encouraged to do independent reading and other work at home. Teachers may also meet virtually with smaller groups within the class at different times, while working to connect independent activities to classroom discussions.
“Whatever it is they are doing outside of that classroom time gets pulled back into the classroom,” Schneller said.
Schneller said the district plans to begin this week communicating to families about the new summer plans, while also seeking input into what things have worked and not worked during the remote part of the school year and what they want to see out of a remote summer program.
The summer program has taken strides to create a “summer camp” atmosphere, hosting weekly trips to Central Park and city swimming pools; the program has even had to apply for summer camp permits. She said officials planning the summer program are still holding out hope that there may be a chance to bring kids together depending on what rules are set down for summer camps in the areas. Either way they will be looking for ways to include outdoor activities for students.
“We are holding out this slight bit of hope, maybe, potentially there will be some opportunity to bring kids together for a camp,” she said. “Regardless of whether that camp happens… we need to think creatively about what we can do to get kids outside.”