How in-person graduations symbolize COVID recovery

 St. Vrain Valley Schools leaders now digging into lessons learned from COVID's disruptions
By: | March 25, 2021
Colorado’s St. Vrain Valley Schools will hold in-person graduation ceremonies in the stadiums of its 10 high schools, with student allowed to bring four guests.Colorado’s St. Vrain Valley Schools will hold in-person graduation ceremonies in the stadiums of its 10 high schools, with student allowed to bring four guests.

In-person high school graduations planned for the spring in Colorado’s St. Vrain Valley Schools will provide one sign that its communities are emerging from the COVID pandemic.

The district plans to hold in-person ceremonies in the stadiums of its 10 high schools at the end of May.

Graduating seniors can bring four household guests—and if the guests are parents, grandparents or other older adults, many of them will likely be fully vaccinated by late spring, Superintendent Don Haddad says.

“We see light at the end of the tunnel,” Haddad says. “It will signal a transition back a lot more normalcy as we enter into next school year.”

Looking on the bright side

After the long crisis of COVID, the district has some other milestones to celebrate. Despite the pandemic’s disruptions, St. Vrain Valley reached its highest ever graduation rate while more students than ever took AP exams.

Administrators also opened a series of new schools and one of the district’s boys’ basketball teams won a high school state championship. “A lot of things speak to us being better than what we had been before,” Haddad says.

As for the graduations, they will be attended by about 300 students each. In a big change from past ceremonies, guests will sit on the field with their student, rather than sitting in the stands, Haddad says.

“They like that and we like that,” he says. “It has a much more personal feeling, and that’s a good thing.”

Masks will be required and students, guests and educators will enter at multiple entrances so no crowds build up.

“These celebrations are a recognition of 13 year of success,” Haddad says. “We’re telling students that last year was really difficult, but it has been one in a series of 13 years you’ve been in our system, and we want you to remember the hard work you’ve done over last 13 years, and also take away the resilience you’ve developed and the ability to overcome adversity.”

COVID’s lessons for education

Many safety measures—such as coaching students to regularly wash hands and use hand sanitizer—will become permanent in St. Vrain as a way, for instance, to reduce the severity of future flu seasons, Haddad says.

Emerging from the pandemic, Haddad and his team will work to apply some of the other lessons learned during COVID.

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“The ways in which we’ve measured learning in the past are not always the most accurate ways,” Haddad says. “If there are any silver linings in learning from this pandemic, it’s that we just can’t revert and to try to salvage what we had before.”

With many policymakers and stakeholders raising concerns about learning loss post-COVID, one solution could be revamping school calendars that increase the risk of students falling behind, Haddad says.

“As a nation, we’ve built a school calendar that has lots of opportunities for loss of learning,” Haddad says. “If the concern for loss of learning is so great, why do we have three months off in the summer?”