Finding balance between safety, celebration for Class of 2020 (with video)
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — As Routt County’s three school districts work to finalize plans for graduation ceremonies, a send-off, drive-thru celebration for all graduating seniors will be held May 29 in the Meadows Parking Lot.
The invite-only event was announced Wednesday by the Steamboat Ski & Resort Corp., in partnership with Alpine Bank. There will be a featured speaker, an announcement of each graduate and a culminating police-escorted parade.
Routt County seniors, along with one car of family members and teachers, are being invited to the celebration, which is not open to the general public.
Steamboat Springs High School is also planning a virtual ceremony May 30. The school has already taped each of the nearly 200 graduates walking across the stage — scheduled one at time — and expressing words of thanks.
They’ve filmed speeches and introductions and are close to completing what Athletic Director Luke DeWolfe described as a “high value, well-done video production” at Monday’s Steamboat Springs School Board meeting.
Assistant Principal Dennis Alt and DeWolfe noted how wonderful it was to see their students in person — even from a distance — while they spent 17 hours taping the individual segments.
On May 30 in Oak Creek, Soroco High School will invite its 26 graduates to gather on the football field — appropriately socially distanced and wearing masks, while their families watch from cars.
High School Principal Steven Fuller said the high school came up with a different plan about two weeks ago, but on the same day they sent it out to families, the Colorado Department of Education sent out new guidelines, which halted their plans.
So the school came up with a new one and is awaiting to see what happens with Colorado Gov. Jared Polis’ highly anticipated safer-at-home update announcement on Monday, May 25.
There will also be a car parade through Oak Creek after the ceremony, all of which be streamed live. Kids also will be able to download professional photos from the day’s festivities for free, he said.
The big thing he hears from seniors, Fuller said, “is to wait as long as possible to have as traditional as possible a graduation.”
“It sucks that it’s not a normal graduation, but at the same time, I know our school board did as much as they could and tried to make it as normal as possible,” said Soroco senior Jadyn Ellis. “I’m glad it’s not through a computer screen. I’m glad we get to share it with our classmates. And we will have our parents there in cars with us to see that day.”
Hayden is still planning what graduation will look like for the Class of 2020 and continuing talks with students and parents, said Hayden Secondary Principal Gina Zabel.
“Ultimately, the kids would like an in-person event, but right now, we can’t do that — the restrictions don’t allow it,” Zabel said.
For now, there are several things the district is talking about but no final decisions, according to Zabel.
Graduation day is a milestone for young people, crossing the threshold from youth into adulthood, from dependence to independence. And this year, there won’t be hugs between classmates, there won’t be families traveling from out of state, and there won’t be crowded, joyous, loud celebrations with confetti and cap throwing.
“That won’t be situation for us, but you got to do what you got to do,” Ellis said.
A group of Steamboat parents has been meeting over recent weeks, as have student officers, to try and explore all alternatives, so that graduates can be physically in the same location at the same time on the same day.
The fast-tracked Steamboat Resort event is a step in that direction, but at Monday’s board meeting, Steamboat senior Maddie Craigen told the board many of the students didn’t feel their voices and ideas have always been heard by the district.
Craigen told the board she and her peers were hoping for a get-together that would respect all safety concerns and guidelines but be in-person, pointing to the drive-thru parade in celebration of Steamboat athletes held last week.
In an interview Thursday, Craigen said she and her classmates came up with what they thought was a good socially distanced, drive-in plan at the Meadows Parking Lot and presented that to the school board in late April.
“Our main goal was to be together in some way on graduation day,” she said.
“Our class went through a lot this year,” Craigen added.
On top of spending the final months of their senior year at home in isolation, they lost a principal and spent their spring under investigation related to allegations of the mishandling sexual misconduct cases.
And all the senior spring traditions have been canceled, Craigen said. And many don’t even know if they will be heading off to college in the fall.
“It was a terrible year, but we made it through together,” she said.
At Monday’s meeting, senior parent Valerie Savoie, who has been working with other parents, said she appreciated all the efforts being made by the district on the virtual ceremony.
“But I do want to say I think there are other options,“ Savoie said. “I don’t think any parent or student is wanting to put our community at risk. We are well-aware of safety issues, and we want to make sure we are following that. But we also want to pursue other options on behalf of the seniors.”
There has been a lot of back and forth, described Alt, between administrators, the county and Steamboat Ski & Resort Corp.
After a parent group asked them to “dig deeper,” Alt said they continued those conversations.
It’s not about whether the county would approve or deny a plan, said Superintendent Brad Meeks.
“The question the school district has to ask when we are submitting a mitigation plan, are we willing to accept the risk for any liability that comes with hosting that type of event and that type of gathering?” Meeks said at Monday’s board meeting.
Savoie said parents are still exploring other options.
“It feels like hosting an actual graduation ceremony and gathering that many people is not a good idea,” DeWolfe said.
Craigen said she appreciates having the video to look back on as a totally unique keepsake, and she said she is glad the district was able to work with the resort to organize the Meadows event.
Parents and the entire community “have been absolutely amazing,” Craigen said. “I don’t think I’ve ever felt so supported. I feel like everyone in the community cares.”
To reach Kari Dequine Harden, call 970-871-4205, email kharden@SteamboatPilot.com or follow her on Twitter @kariharden.
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