Pawtucket plans virtual graduations for Class of 2020

Pawtucket plans virtual graduations for Class of 2020

PAWTUCKET – School officials in Pawtucket say they’ve come up with an alternative plan for graduation for the city’s three high schools that’s as special as possible while following the current safety guidelines.

“We want what’s best for our students,” Assistant Supt. Lisa Ramzi told The Breeze. “They deserve it.”

Following a plan that’s similar to other local school districts, the School Department will be airing virtual graduations comprised of videos spliced together of students individually walking across a stage to receive the sleeve to their diplomas.

Supt. Cheryl McWilliams said the opportunity for seniors to cross a stage was essential, calling the traditional graduation walk “extremely important and memorable.”

Each student will be allowed to have four family members in attendance to watch them walk across a stage set up at McCoy Stadium. Everyone must wear masks and follow social distancing rules, she noted.

“(The students) are most excited about having their family members watch them process in and receive their diploma,” Ramzi said.

School officials took students’ input into account with all three high school principals polling their student leaders and hosting virtual meetings to listen to their thoughts, she said. “This has been hard,” she said. “We wanted to give them the best possible opportunity.”

The School Department’s facilities department is working with the city’s Department of Public Works to assemble the stage at McCoy, and students will be filmed by appointment next week, starting June 1, Ramzi said.

The stage, decorated with flowers and a banner for each school, won’t be located in the stadium but near the barbecue area off to the side, which is gated off and allows school leaders to manage who can go in and out to ensure social distancing rules are being followed, she said.

Videos of the students will be spliced together along with speeches by the valedictorians, salutatorians, Mayor Donald Grebien, and school officials, which will be aired on Capitol TV. Tolman High School’s graduation will air Wednesday, June 10, at 8 p.m. Shea High School’s will be Thursday, June 11, at 8 p.m., and Jacqueline M. Walsh School for the Performing & Visual Arts will be Friday, June 12, 6 p.m.

Seniors from each of the three high schools will arrive at McCoy by appointment, dressed in full regalia, and have their turn walking across the stage to receive their diploma jacket from their principal who will be six feet away. After that, the student will exit the stage and will be able to remove their mask to have their photograph taken, McWilliams said.

Only five cars will be allowed to pull in at a time, she said. Traffic flow will be regulated by the Pawtucket Police Department. Everyone will have to be screened for symptoms of the coronavirus before exiting their cars, she said.

Students did not have to pay for their regalia, which is being funded by the School Department, she added.

“Given the circumstances we’re in, it’s a very excellent, well-thought-out (plan),” McWilliams said, adding that the students will receive a “wonderful video of graduation that they will have for a lifetime.”

The third week in June, students, by appointment, will pick up their diplomas and receive a flash drive with a copy of their graduation video.

McWilliams called the plan a “total collaborative effort” with Ramzi at the helm and thanked the mayor’s office, the Police Department, the DPW, the School Committee, the Pawtucket Administrators Association, the Pawtucket Teachers Alliance, and the PawSox for their help.