Sunday, May 24, 2020

PHS To Hold Slow-Motion In-Person Graduation

Jon Oister, Pottstown High School's Class President, stopped for a quick photo after picking up his cap and gown.

If you have ever been to a high school graduation and thought "this is taking forever," you ain't seen nothing yet.

Perhaps no impact of the coronavirus pandemic and the social distancing restrictions that came with it has had more impact on teens' lives than robbing them of their senior traditions, mostly notably prom and graduation.

Schools have scrambled to come up with something that will approximate the expectations so many of its graduates have held for 13 years of school.

Determined to provide Pottstown High School's graduating seniors with as authentic a graduation as possible, Principal Danielle McCoy and her team have come up with a solution — a really long one.

Instead of a single graduation day, the graduation will be stretched over six days to allow adequate social distancing among the graduates and the families anxious to see them cross that stage.

McCoy openly admits to stealing the idea from Spring-Ford High School Principal Pat Nugent.

But because Pottstown has a much smaller student population, each graduate will have the auditorium to themselves and their guests.

There will be no band playing "Pomp and Circumstance," no chorus singing the school song while everyone pretends to know the words, no cheering classmates and no hearty handshake and diploma hand-off.

Also not possible this year will be the school tradition of each graduate inviting teachers who made a difference in their education.

"I've encouraged them to pick two and to write them notes," McCoy said. "It really means so much to us to be invited, to know that we made a difference."

PHS 2020 Valedictorian Winni Weng
But Pottstown's graduates will still get the basics of a graduation ceremony. They will hear their name announced, and they will cross that stage while their relatives bask in the accomplishment from the seats, under the plan the school has crafted.

But rather than the loosely controlled chaos that marks many graduations, this one will be a closely choreographed procedure that maintains all social distancing protocols made necessary by coronavirus.

Thirty-two students will be scheduled to graduate each day from May 27 to June 4 at 15-minute intervals. They are allowed no more than four guests, who will enter the auditorium from a different door.

"The principal will call the student’s name. When the student’s name is called, the student will walk up the steps and across the stage. The student will pick up a diploma jacket and continue off of the stage, down the steps on the opposite side of the stage," according to the plan posted on the district website.

There will be a photo area set up for some quick pictures and then it's on to the next student.

Each student graduate will be recorded on video, along with the valedictorian, salutatorian and class president speeches.

“Graduation might look different this year, but thanks to Mrs. McCoy and her staff the 140th Pottstown High School Commencement will be a memorable experience for students and their families to share for years to come," said Pottstown Schools Superintendent Stephen Rodriguez.

PHS 2020 salutatorian David Hicks.
"The message to our graduates is clear: We honor you and say thank you for giving us more reason to say proud to be from Pottstown," Rodriguez said.

When all is said and done, the district's media specialist Emily Overdorf, will splice it into a (hopefully) seamless single recording to be enjoyed by all.

The spaced-out methodology is similar to the manner in which the seniors were brought in one by one to get their caps and gowns and pause for a quick photo using the decorations they made for spirit week in the fall.

The staff already surprised the seniors with signs planted in their yards.

"We got the signs and had volunteers from the staff get together on a Saturday. They each took 10 signs and a list of addresses and drove around Pottstown," McCoy said.

"We're trying everything we can think of to make this special for them," she said.

"When this virus first hit, I told the students we would have some kind of graduation," said McCoy. At first, the students responding to a survey opted to aim for a July ceremony, but that got shot down as too close too soon and thus too dangerous.

McCoy said the school is still leaving the door open for some kind of later celebration, but in the meantime, they decided to move ahead with this alternative rather than a virtual ceremony, as some districts have chosen.

PHS Principal Danielle McCoy
"I love graduation," said McCoy. "We get to see the seniors we've known for four years get
recognized and I know how important it is to the families."

McCoy, herself a Pottstown High School graduate, said "in our town, a lot of people can't afford a big wedding, the kids may be going to college, so this is their big event."

Under the protocols set up, "the person who will be nearest to them is me and that is a risk I'm willing to take to give them something special. I want to do it," McCoy said.

"I can't give them a prom, have them dress up and come in and dance for 15 minutes and then leave," she said, "but I can do this."

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