Local schools to celebrate their 2021 graduates in creative ways
Reeti Meenakshi Rohilla - Staff Writer
Approaching the end of the school year, local schools are planning their graduation ceremonies amidst ever changing COVID regulations.
The provincial government announced in a June 2 news release that remote learning would be continued for all elementary and secondary students for the remainder of this school year. “The government will allow school boards to invite graduating students in elementary schools (by class) and secondary schools (by homeroom/quadmestered class) to return to school in June for a short, outdoor celebration, where physical distancing is possible,” stated the news release.
Sioux Mountain Public School Principal Wayne Mercer said that the school is planning to conduct its graduation ceremony virtually for their 43 graduates on June 24, keeping some options open for possible in-person celebration.
Mercer said, “Obviously the COVID pandemic has changed things quite a bit for us this year and we are looking at a couple of different options right now, simply because it remains an evolving situation in terms of what the restrictions are for gatherings. We do know that the province has just recently announced that the schools are remaining in virtual learning for the remainder of the year. So, we will continue to monitor what types of gatherings are permitted as June goes on here. But we are looking at, right now, planning for a full virtual graduation ceremony that can be done online where we will invite our graduates to participate in a video conferencing portal where we would have our ceremony, speeches, valedictorian address and awards and things like that done virtually.”
He continued, “If we are permitted to do something that’s a little different in terms of some sort of gathering, then we may consider that, if it is safe to do so. There are a number of other things that we are looking at. The students had designed a graduation sweatshirt or hoodie that they are going to be receiving and we are doing lawn signs and things like that for our graduates, so that they can be celebrated in their neighborhoods. Those are things that we have planned right now and we will continue to monitor and gain advise from the Northwestern Health Unit (NWHU) in terms of what are, if any additional things that we can do in a safe way for our kids.”
Mercer said that this has been a year like no other, for students and staff alike, and that he is proud of the work that has been put in to make this a successful year. “We had other grade 8 students that were participating in the year-long elementary virtual school associated with our board. On June 24, we will celebrate all of the grade 8s, both from the virtual school that would normally go to Sioux Mountain, as well as our Sioux Mountain students, and we are obviously very proud. Our students have done remarkably well, despite the challenging circumstances with them around the school year with the pandemic. We know that they will do an amazing job once they get to the high school and we wish them all the best and success as they go through their high school academics.”
Sioux North High School is planning to host a safe, in-person graduation on two consecutive days for over 70 graduates. They will allot 15-minute time slots from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. on June 24 and 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. on June 25 to all its grads. School Vice-Principal Andy Schardt said that they would be sharing a Google document with students and parents to sign up for their preferred time slot.
Schardt shared that approximately 20 students
out of this year’s graduating batch are from northern communities. He added that students that are unable to make it to the ceremony in-person would be receiving their grad caps, gowns, and lawn signs that they could use to celebrate in their neighborhoods.
“So, the plan really is for the grads to come out of the vehicle with their cap and gown on. We’ll give them their stole and if they have an honor roll, or a stole that they should be wearing, we’ll give them that, they will walk across the stage, we’ll announce their name, we’ll announce any awards that they have, and they will receive a…diploma. We have a staff member that will be taking pictures. We will have a spot for parents to take pictures. But, family gathering and those kind of things we are not going to do,” said Schardt.
Depending on the COVID guidelines at the time, Schardt said that on the evening of June 25, he is hoping to conduct a vehicle parade, similar to last year’s. He explained, “We will be driving past their (graduates’) homes with our volunteer fire department escort. It was really exciting last year. The kids and families like it.”
Schardt said that in past years, the school would make extensive use of their newly made building, hosting indoor celebrations. “We were able to do a little more this year than we were able to do last year, with the things that we have learned, and timing and planning. But, it certainly is not the graduation that everybody would want to have,” he said.
The school is introducing a graduating online platform consisting of all the speeches, the valedictorian address, students’ past and present photos, their grad photos and a portal for the awards, for everyone to be able to access, said Schardt.
“I just want to remark again on how proud I am of the students and how they worked. In this environment it’s not easy, they certainly demonstrated their resilience and did their best, and in a lot of ways they are inspiring. I just want to thank them for all their efforts and congratulate them on getting through this pandemic, working through and graduating, and I wish them all the best in the future,” said Schardt.
Sacred Heart School will also be conducting their graduation ceremony virtually on June 23, via the school’s Facebook page. Sacred Heart School Principal Emily Hamilton shared, “Graduation season is always a special time for our school. It’s a pause for reflection and celebration for educators. We have watched most of these students learn and grow for 10 whole years! Although it is difficult to say goodbye, we hope our graduates know that they will always have the love and support from the Sacred Heart School.”
Hamilton shared that they will be distributing graduation packages to all their students. “Along with a special package, our graduates will borrow graduation gowns to provide the opportunity for them to take pictures with their families. Previous to (Premier Doug) Ford’s announcement on June 2, we were following the guidelines set out by the NWHU. This meant we were unable to organize any graduation events that could potentially create large gatherings of people.”
Hamilton shared that even though a distanced graduation ceremony wasn’t what they hoped for, they feel the need to continue to uphold student safety until further information on COVID safety guidelines is made available. She added that any possible changes to the ceremony would be communicated with families through their School Messenger system.
Hamilton shared that while frequently switching from in-person to remote learning takes a toll on the students, they have shown immense resilience throughout this pandemic. She added, “Although it can be difficult to stay positive, my hope is that our children take away a deeper appreciation for the relationships that they have, when moving forward. Being distanced from family, friends, and the community certainly makes in-person connections feel that much more special. I look forward to seeing how our graduates might apply this life experience to their future goals and dreams.”
The three Lac Seul First Nation schools, Morris Thomas Memorial Christian School, Obishikokaang Elementary School and Waninitawingaang Memorial School will celebrate their in-person graduation ceremonies on the afternoon of June 24, with a limit of two guests per grad. There are a total of 21 students graduating from the three schools this year.
Waninitawingaang Memorial School Principal Alisha Dasti-Hill, who is also responsible for planning and executing this year’s Grade 8 graduation ceremonies for Lac Seul First Nation schools, said, “Before the pandemic, we would have all of the students from all three schools together in one building. We have done all of our graduations in-person, we haven’t done a virtual grad.” She added, “Last year we did a live stream and this year we are going to compile a video. But normally they would be all together in the same room and this year they are going to be at each of the three schools.”
Dasti-Hill said that this year each of the three schools would conduct separate ceremonies, which will be recorded and compiled into a video. She added, “We are going to have a few people speak, we are going to have our education director, our Chief speak and record videos so that each grad ceremony could have a recorded video of important figures in our community.” Hill said that the celebration would consist of handing out the diplomas and taking grad pictures of each student.
Dasti-Hill said, “When I asked the kids what was really important about their grad, they said it was getting together with their peers. It’s nice that we are able to do in-person. It is still going to be socially distanced, with masks and all of that.”
“I’m excited to see them continue to grow,” she concluded.