SOUTH KINGSTOWN, R.I. — Celebrating high school seniors has become a cause that parents, teachers and administrators are now championing amid a pandemic that has been stealing the traditions graduating students once shared and treasured together.
“They have worked so hard and should be having a fun senior year, but they have been told ‘no’ to most things they’ve wanted to do for almost a year now,” said Christine Fewlass, one of several parents involved in this memory- and bond-building effort.
She added, “I can’t even imagine what it is like for these kids…all they want is to be together before the next chapters of their lives begin.”
The recognition and chances to be together in the second half of their senior year has included an ice-skating get together in Providence, but only 25 at a time could be on the ice together.
It also included a “Love a Senior” Valentine’s Day gift bag for every senior with various goodies and other items donated by local merchants. There’s planning and discussion in the works for a “polar plunge” in the cold nearby Atlantic Ocean, and perhaps even an outdoor scavenger hunt or dodgeball game.
These are not among the traditional annual events, which include homecoming, the Sadie Hawkins dance, a winter ball and SKPades, a sketch comedy of sorts featuring skits, music and dance numbers. Those became victims of the pandemic.
Still, these alternative ideas help preserve togetherness in a nostalgic right-of-passage for seniors who will soon leave for college or work and will “never pass this way again,” as an old Quaker saying goes.
It started, said Sharon Martin, mother to a senior at SKHS who is also an elementary school principal, after several parents discussed the missed memorable events these high school students shared.
“Teenagers are social creatures, and not being able to enjoy these events has left them feeling sad,” Martin said. “So a group of parents got together to brainstorm ways that we could make the second half of their senior year fun.”
The group has grown now to over 20 parents who have researched activities done elsewhere that follow social distancing guidelines while still bringing students together.
After a meeting or two, class advisors Amanda Varone and Mary Kutcher, along with Principal Chip McGair, joined the Zoom meetings for discussions
“If it wasn’t for the parents, I don’t know what we would have done,” said Kutchner, with Varone nodding, during a Zoom interview about the pop-up and spontaneous effort.
“They gave us that extra push. It’s hard to keep your morale up. You get discouraged,” Kutchner said, noting that not all seniors are in the high school building at the same time.
Parents have volunteered to chair each event and they are looking for more to support planning and fundraising, Martin said.
Both advisors, though, pointed out that the lack of activities — through which the class raises money to underwrite costs for the senior prom — has left them with only about $2,000.
They are looking to raise money, they said, “because we want a senior prom in some fashion one way or another.”
There is a Facebook page — https://tinyurl.com/skhscelebrate - describing “SKHS 2021 Celebrate the Seniors,” as well as a Go Fund Me page —
https://tinyurl.com/skgofundme — to raise money for the prom.
The fundraising goal is $10,000, but the advisors said they would certainly accept donations over that amount to further underwrite costs.
In addition to parents, said senior class President Matthew Burns, “Our class advisors and administration have been really supportive of getting events organized where we can feel like a unified class while still staying socially distanced and safe.”
McGair acknowledged the challenges his seniors have confronted.
“Things are different for the Classes of 2020 and 2021 because they are graduating during a pandemic and are not getting to do all the traditional things that SKHS students get to do,” he said. “However, we are trying to focus on finding new ways to have fun.”
Chaos and crisis can bring opportunity, and McGair, along with the class advisors, see that possibly happening now.
“It is my hope that we are able to create some new traditions for SKHS students,” he said. “For example, our seniors painted their parking spots this school year for the first time.”
“It looks nice to see students pulling into their parking spots each morning, and it is something that I would like to see happen in future years,” the principal added.
Varone and Kutchner said this is the first time in recent memory that a group of parents who have high school seniors became involved in planning senior activities with the teachers.
“We feel this will become a standard for getting parents involved,” Varone added.