By Matthew Osborne and Kimberly Brown
Habersham Central is doing all it can to try to honor its 2020 graduates properly.
Principal Jonathan Stribling announced Friday that the graduation ceremony will be moved to Friday, July 31, in an effort to have a genuine ceremony with students, staff and families in attendance.
The unprecedented summer ceremony will take place just four days before school begins for students for the 2020-21 academic year on Aug. 4.
“I believe that all Habersham Central seniors deserve the experiences of wearing academic regalia while walking into a full stadium to ‘Pomp and Circumstance.’ They deserve the opportunity of sitting with their classmates one last time while their proud families watch with anticipation in the stands, and finally walking across the stage to receive a diploma representing years of hard work and academic achievement,” Stribling said Friday. “Arguably, the best part of graduation is when the families spill out of the stands to hug their graduates and celebrate with them after the throwing of the caps. The Habersham Central faculty and administration will make every effort to afford our seniors with these opportunities and July 31st is our best chance. I am hopeful for, and envision, an energized and well-deserved graduation in Raider Stadium for the Habersham Central Class of 2020.”
Some schools around the nation have punted on graduation and gone virtual, drawing the ire of students and parents in those communities.
“While the senior class is disappointed we cannot all be together on May 22 for our graduation, my peers and myself are grateful that Mr. Stribling and the school board have decided to reschedule our ceremony for a later date,” Habersham Central’s senior class president Kellsie Rogers said Monday. “This is a once in lifetime event to look forward to, and we’re excited to come together one last time as the Class of 2020.”
The plan is for graduation to take place at 8 p.m. Friday, July 31, in Raider Stadium in a traditional manner. If graduation must be delayed because of weather, the ceremony will take place at 9 a.m., Aug. 1, in Raider Stadium. If a traditional graduation is not possible due to COVID-19 concerns, graduation will take place in a virtual format at 8 p.m. Friday, July 31.
A senior honors program will be held Tuesday, July 28, from 4-6 p.m. Senior scholarship night will follow the same evening, Tuesday, July 28, beginning at 7 p.m. Graduation practices celebrating seniors will be Thursday, July 30, and Friday, July 31 at 8:30 a.m. both mornings. Plans for these practices are still being finalized. “The plan above to include a time of senior honors recognitions, senior scholarship celebrations, and an exceptional, authentic graduation ceremony puts students first in this most extraordinary year,” Stribling said. “Virtual options will only be implemented as a last resort. We look forward to celebrating the achievements of the Habersham Central Class of 2020.” In addition, to honor the Habersham Central Class of 2020, Habersham Central High School in conjunction with the Habersham Central Athletic Department will turn on the lights at 8:20 p.m. (2020 in military time) in Raider Stadium each Friday night beginning April 24 and ending May 22, the last day of school. The lights will remain on for 20 minutes.
“This small gesture in addition to other senior events planned between now and graduation day, July 31, will bring appropriate attention and awareness to the great Habersham Central Class of 2020,” Stribling said.
LEARNING, MEALS WILL GO ON
Habersham County School System students will continue with online learning through the original school ending date of May 22. This was announced by Habersham County School Superintendent Matthew Cooper, during the Habersham County Board of Education’s regular meeting, held online April 20. “Some school systems have decided to end their school year early, but we have not made that decision in Habersham County,” Cooper said. “At this point, we believe our students need a full school year. There’s no reason to cut it short.” Amid coronavirus shutdowns, the “learning from home plan” is going very well, Cooper said.
Though he stressed that no decisions have been made regarding assignments, he said, planners are discussing the possibility of teachers not giving new assignments during the final week of school. “This would allow our teachers to focus on students who are behind, who still have work to turn in and assignments to complete,” he said. “It would also allow our teachers to work with students who need remediation that final week.”
Cooper said Habersham County schools will continue to have a five-day school week. “Some school systems have gone to a four-day week, but we don’t believe it’s something we need to do here in Habersham County,” he said. “If anything, our students need more education, not less.”
Cooper also reported on the food plan, which, he said, “is thriving, and that is an understatement.” “Since March 17, our nutrition department … about 50 nutrition workers coming in very early in the morning … these nutrition workers have served more than 76,000 meals,” Cooper said. “That’s a lunch and a breakfast every [school] day. When I heard that number today, it surprised me.”
Cooper called the nutrition workers “true heroes in our community,” along with those in the medical profession, those who work in nursing homes, first responders, law enforcement, firefighters, and grocery store workers. “These are people we lean very heavily on right now, but in our school system, I want to pay special tribute to our nutrition workers, because they deserve it,” he said.
Cooper said the food plan will continue through May 22, and after that date, the summer feeding program, similar to previous years, will be offered. “We are looking at ways to expand the summer feeding program, to feed more students than we normally feed,” he said.