Students at Casady School in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, photographed by Brett Heidebrecht last year.
Quarantine has made schools across the nation rethink their time-honored traditions. But while the annual rites of passage have been amended, social distancing has not put an end to the ceremonies and celebrations. Recently, we checked in with three private schools to find out how they’ve adapted their programming for our new, mostly virtual reality—and were inspired to hear that even though the spring 2020 versions may be different, they are certainly not lacking in heart (and in some respects, seem to be ushering in a new element of connectedness). Read on to discover the ways these learning institutions have pivoted to provide safe and memorable experiences for students during the pandemic.
Rituals remain intact. Most schools have elements in their schedule that add consistency and a sense of comfort to children. Administrators stress the importance of maintaining these during quarantine. “Chapel is a big part of each week at Christ Church Episcopal School (CCES),” shared Jamie Bryant, director of strategic marketing and communication at the school located in Greenville, South Carolina. “We’ve maintained that with a virtual chapel service that’s sent to all students. Although pre-recorded, students and parents are able to tune in at the same time and worship. Chapels may have gone virtual, but community at CCES remains strong.”
Parades are having a moment. From birthdays to anniversaries and graduation, the parade is becoming a preferred medium for recognizing big events during the pandemic. To celebrate the end of the school year at Casady School in Oklahoma City, students and their families are participating in a Summer Sendoff Drive-Through Parade. Betty Jane Garret, director of institutional advancement, reports that faculty from all four school divisions, as well as the graduating class of 2020, will be stationed on campus to wave and cheer as students finish out the year.
Celebrations are continuing via Zoom (and are surprisingly moving). Schools have found that despite social distancing, a great deal of connection can be still felt, even over video calls. At CCES, they usually celebrate Senior College Commitment Day in person, but this year they took the tradition online, and in so doing, unexpectedly created a fun, dramatic “reveal” moment. “The senior class joined on a Zoom call, wearing their college t-shirts, and they revealed—some for the very first time—their college decisions,” Bryant said. “They celebrated for 15 minutes, and then the administration joined in on the celebration.” In addition, a long-standing tradition is for their K-5 students to serenade the seniors with the song, “I Am a Promise.” They kept the tradition alive by making a video compilation and playing it for the seniors on the Zoom call. “It was a really moving surprise,” Bryant adds.
Events are being expanded to include the whole school community. Moving events online has, in some ways, made them more accessible. At CCES, they traditionally hold an on-campus athletics signing day for students who have signed on to play a sport in college. Typically, this event is only open to school faculty, the student athletes, their families, and coaches. Bryant reports that this year, their director of athletics produced a signing day video that featured athletes signing at home, and their coaches spoke about each athlete’s journey to play at the collegiate level. The video was able to be viewed by the entire school community, enabling everyone to take part in this usually exclusive event. It also gave each student a wonderful memento to honor their athletic achievement.
Some longtime traditions are being postponed. There are some school traditions that just have to happen in person, shared Chris Gay, director of communications at Augusta Preparatory Day School in Martinez, Georgia, who cited recognition of moving up to the next grade as one such event for his institution. “We honor all of our students on their accomplishments, and we’re planning to celebrate our pre-Kindergarten through 11th grade students on August 6 and 7 before our new school year begins on the 10th,” he said. Likewise, Bryant reports that CCES hopes to hold graduation in-person for their seniors at a later date in July.
There’s a focus on personalization. While traditional graduation ceremonies cannot be held right now, smaller schools are taking the situation as an opportunity to individually celebrate their graduates. At Augusta Preparatory Day School, they are holding personalized graduations for all 44 seniors. Each student will come to campus with their parents in 10-minute intervals for a brief, personalized ceremony and photo. Gray reports the school still hopes to celebrate their seniors in a group setting later in the summer before they all depart for college.
Christ Church Episcopal School is featured in The Scout Guide Greenville. Casady School is featured in The Scout Guide Oklahoma City. Augusta Preparatory Day School is featured in The Scout Guide Augusta.