Non-traditional graduation the highlight of PECI’s non-traditional year

GRADUATION DAY 2020 PECI graduate Case McFarland accepts a graduate lawn sign from school Athletic Director Laurie Spencer last week. The COVID-19 pandemic erased any hope of a traditional late June graduation ceremony but hopes are the grads will return on Thanksgiving for a celebration. (Jason Parks/Gazette Staff)




On Thursday the Ontario government announced it was keeping all schools closed for the rest of the 2019/2020 school year. For the Hastings and Prince Edward District School Board (HPEDSB), the top priority continues to be support the mental health and wellness of students followed by education.

In a letter to parents and students issued shortly after Minister of Education Stephen Lecce announced expectedly the Ontario Government could not assure the safety of students who were returning to classes amid the COVID-19 pandemic, HPEDSB Director of Education Sean Monteith reminded parents “We have nothing if we do not have our health and our families; and it is both of these critical pieces of our lives that will carry us through these incredibly challenging times.”

“As you read this important update, please remind yourself of this: health, family and loved ones, responsibility to community . . . and then education,” The Director wrote. “At the outset of this pandemic the priority was and continues to be the education for all our students and support for all our families. Also this support is required to be extended and assured to all our staff, who like families share similar challenges and concerns for the future.”

Earlier this month Lecce gave all school boards and Directors of Education an update on provincial “continuity of learning.” 

The decision to close all school doors for the rest of this school year was made after consulting with the Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. David Williams, health experts on the COVID-19 Command Table and medical experts at The Hospital for Sick Children.

For the past 10 weeks HPEDSB has continued to insist they are entirely committed with learning being their main focus.

“In spite of learning from home and remote learning regardless of where you live across the district, we are entirely committed to continuing to provide learning and prioritizing learning as our main focus,” Director Monteith said. “It’s equally important to publicly reaffirm this commitment to learning opportunities for all our students and with clear expectations our staff not just reach out to families, but reach all our families; this commitment is unwavering and we are resolved in meeting it.”

Assessment, grading, marks and reporting will remain different from the traditional sense but still important for learning for students and their families, as well as staff.

“How we’re providing learning and what that experience looks like and feels like, will be different than what we’re all used to in the traditional sense,” said Director Monteith. “And this includes myself not only as the Director of Education, but as a father of two sons who continue to benefit from our public education system.

HPEDSB’s approach to virtual learning remains in effect, their emphasis on student-teacher contact is unchanged and their commitment to supporting the whole needs of their families is unwavering.

“In short, our focus remains on learning and ensuring we’re reaching all our students,” expressed Director Monteith in a statement. “And to that end I am proud of our staff and families and how we’ve all responded together.”

While a new online process  has guided learning and replaced regular in-class activities during the pandemic, there has been collateral damage to regular school life, especially for those graduating at the end of this year.

Spring season secondary school athletics such as baseball, girls soccer and track and field were washed out as was the senoir prom and, finally, graduation.

The Prince Edward Collegiate Institute (PECI) graduation committee has been working diligently on a solution for this year’s graduation ceremony in the ever-changing and challenging terrain of a COVID-19 landscape.

According to a letter sent to graduating Panthers, current measures in place for COVID-19 and the unpredictable path forward necessitated the committee consider a wide range of available options. 

As part of the committee’s process they investigated opportunities to provide graduates with a formal, albeit untraditional celebration in June, and also looked at the possibility to postpone the ceremony until the Fall.

“As we plan there will be further communication,” said Andrew Ross, Principal at PECI. “We’re continuing to review the suggestions and alternatives for a Prom and have not yet reached a decision on how to proceed.”

PECI recently surveyed their graduating class on their thoughts about what they should do. 

Nearly half, or 48 per cent voted in favour of a traditional ceremony to be held in the Fall, 36 per cent remained neutral while 16 per cent voted for a untraditional June celebration.

Included in the survey was a measurement for satisfaction asking students to rate the two options on a five-point scale from ‘Very Disappointed’ to ‘Very Satisfied’. Among all respondents, there was a 98 per cent rate of satisfaction ranging from ‘neutral’ to ‘very satisfied’ with a Fall ceremony. There was only a 40 per cent rate of satisfaction for a unique ceremony in June based on the same measures. 

The vast majority, 53 out of 54 respondent, told the committee they would either be neutral or satisfied with a traditional Fall ceremony.

“Given the results of our work to date we will begin planning for a traditional ceremony to take place, tentatively, in conjunction with Thanksgiving week-end of 2020,” said Principal Ross. “Graduation ceremonies of this nature were once commonplace in Ontario. We acknowledge this option is not ideal; however, we feel it’s the most prudent choice while faced with our reality.”

The committee recognizes there may continue to be challenges for hosting a public event in the Fall and will continue to provide grads and families with updates. It’s very important to note plans may change and are dependent upon direction from public health officials as they continue to work through current and future restrictions associated with COVID-19.

Although a formal gathering in June will not take place, the school wants to provide a degree of closure for their graduates and move forward with recognizing their great achievement of finishing high school. 

PECI will still have their awards and scholarships process as well as celebrating the culmination of everyone’s learning on social media and in local newspapers. 

“In addition to these plans we’ve ordered PECI graduation lawn signs for each one of our upcoming graduates to display outside their home, or in a window,” Principal Ross said. “On behalf of our committee, I want to thank graduates and families for your patience and understanding as we work to provide the graduating class of 2020 with the recognition they so richly deserve.”

The graduation lawn signs are sponsored by Kingfisher Financial and PSJ Interior Finishing and Renovations and were distributed to 2020 graduates by PECI staff members late last week.

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