OAKLEAF – A group of administrators and senior high school sponsors from around Clay County have banded together during these unprecedented times to create a committee responsible for ensuring that each student, no matter the school, gets a proper senior year sendoff.
Before the COVID-19 pandemic, the senior year was to proceed as usual. Each school would have its senior awards, graduation and grad night, but the virus left students stuck inside. The senior committee was created to find solutions.
“We got together a group of senior sponsors and administrators in charge of seniors to make sure that we created opportunities for students across the county so that no student was left out,” Oakleaf High Assistant Principal Amanda Stilianou said. “Basically, we came up with a number of virtual events and other opportunities to try and take the place of things our kids were missing out on.”
These events include a nationwide time zone-based virtual prom, a virtual senior celebration event on May 29, a virtual senior week and other things like the Clay Today virtual yearbook. It was about giving students a way to celebrate their senior year, Stilianou said.
In between these larger milestone events, the senior committee has created themed weeks. Last week was faculty baby photo week. Pictures of faculty and staff were uploaded, and seniors had to guess their identities. The student with the most correct guesses won a prize. Seniors have been giving advice and sharing senior quotes this week.
“We put a form out with all of our ideas for each week and let the seniors vote,” Stilianou said. “It’s obviously very different for them, especially compared to what they probably thought senior year would be, but they’ve been very appreciative. They’re always saying thank you and telling the senior committee that they appreciate that we’re trying to make their senior year special in spite of what’s going on.”
Stilianou said the biggest worry of all for seniors is the fear of not getting to walk across the stage for graduation. Superintendent David Broski said an in-person graduation night is set for July 17. This event will, of course, take into account CDC guidelines as well as guidelines from the local and state governments.
The senior committee wanted to ensure each student was able to celebrate their final year in high school in an equitable manner. Some schools have more money than others which could create rifts in what one school is able to do for its seniors versus another. Stilianou said this committee nullifies the potential for a rift like that because everything the committee does is district wide.
As a previous teacher, now administrator, and mother to two that went through the Clay County School District system, Stilianou said she understands how devastating it must be for seniors to have their final weeks as seniors taken from them by something out of their hands.
“They’ve worked hard for this for 13 years,” Stilianou said. “This is a huge milestone. We can’t change the way things are but we’re doing our best to make it the best it can be, and I think the response has been very uplifting. We’re all in this together and our students recognize that.”
Broski said the work of the senior committee has been nothing short of inspiring.
“I’m very proud of our district for recognizing the unprecedented events that have occurred that have affected the Class of 2020,” Broski said. “Our district has worked very hard to create events that honor the Class of 2020 in these unusual and unprecedented times and I think our kids are very appreciative of that.”