Every educator and parent knows the end of the school year brings a special kind of energy. Booked with parties and special events, it’s often frantic, fun and filled with tradition.
This year, end-of-year celebrations couldn’t take their normal shape, but it doesn’t mean they didn’t take place.
At St. Patrick School in Carlisle, the last few weeks of school normally features a talent show, field day and class celebrations. Staff members wanted to make sure the students, from preschool to 8th grade, had many of the normal opportunities, even if they took a different form.
Principal Antoinette Oliverio said it was very important that the school recognize how difficult and different this year was and give the students things to look forward to as it was coming to an end. After leaving the school building on Friday, March 13, students started online classes at St. Patrick the following Monday and continued through May 20. Throughout the 10 weeks of online learning, St. Patrick’s worked to keep students and families engaged in a variety of ways.
“We took advantage of our technology in more than just academic ways. We kept traditions in an untraditional way,” Oliverio said. “We realize that learning is key, but we value the whole person: talent, extracurricular, fitness, health in mind, body and soul.”
For field day, the school’s physical education teacher recorded a video and organized a list of activities for students and families. Everyone was encouraged to take a one-mile walk/bike/trip and send in pictures or videos. Other competitive events featured racing with a cup of water on their head, balancing an egg on a spoon or doing an obstacle course. Families and faculty shared their field day adventures and the school’s Facebook page, which is public, was filled with pictures and videos on May 18 and 19.
At the Kemmery household, second-grader Thomas, kindergartener Benjamin and little brother Daniel got into the spirit with a homemade obstacle course and other competitions. Dad Mark submitted the video and oversaw the friendly competition.
Thomas said field day made the end of this year a little more enjoyable, despite the circumstances.
“It was really fun! It was weird that I wasn’t at school, and I wasn’t with my friends, but I was still having fun,” he said.
His mom Liz Kemmery said she appreciated the school’s effort to make the best of unusual circumstances during the 10 weeks.
“I’m grateful for the staff and faculty at St. Pat’s for taking their time and creativity to bring school fun and traditions to the kids at home! They had a great time sharing and watching field day activities virtually with their friends,” she said. “I can’t wait until we can do it again in person!”
Another tradition that had to be adapted was the annual talent show, which usually takes place during the school day. Video entries included some interesting things that would not have been options under the old format, including skateboarding and horseback riding. Many students opted for traditional singing or playing musical instruments, and a few used their technological savvy to perform with friends.
The submitted videos were divided into three acts, which made their debut on the Facebook page and were later emailed to families.
First grader Avielle Zerance and her friend Daniella made their own dance video via Face Time and recorded it for the school.
“I loved doing the talent show with my best friend, Daniella,” Avielle said. “I miss her so much, and doing a dance together made us feel closer in our hearts.”
Avielle’s mom, Julia Zerance, said the girls took the project on themselves.
“They planned everything out, from the song to the outfit. We were so happy to have the opportunity for the girls to still get to participate in the talent show, and feel connected to each other through dance,” Julia said. “We are so blessed to have such an amazing school that supports us spiritually, academically and socially, even during a pandemic.”
The unexpected end to the year may have hit hardest on those who won’t be coming back. The Class of 2020 lost out on a lot of traditions that usually help the transition from grade school to high school.
St. Patrick eighth-grade teacher Samantha Wilbur organized a video graduation ceremony that was shared with the whole school during that last week of classes.
An added surprise was an all-day diploma delivery caravan for the students, also organized (and mapped at more than 200 miles) by Wilbur.
Over the course of nearly eight hours on Saturday, May 23, as many as 17 faculty and staff members at a time delivered gifts, balloons, supplies and diplomas to the graduating eighth graders. Of the 27 students in the class, 24 were available for the surprise, thanks to help from their parents.
Grace Sullivan said she didn’t suspect anything when she woke up that morning.
“I was shocked to see my principal, Mrs. Oliverio, Father Bender, and all of my teachers stopping in front of my house to congratulate me on my graduation and hand me my diploma,” she said. “To see all of my biggest supporters in one place was a blessing. Through my 10 years at St. Patrick’s School, I have learned right from wrong, how to be a morally good person, and a Blue Ribbon Education.”
(Lisa Maddux is the Development Director at St. Patrick School in Carlisle.)
By Lisa Maddux, Special to The Witness