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WUSD mulls ways to honor 2020 graduates

Williams High School (Wendy Howell/WGCN)

Williams High School (Wendy Howell/WGCN)

WILLIAMS, Ariz. — As the May 22 graduation date looms for Williams High School seniors, administrators at Williams Unified School District are pondering ways to recognize graduates as a traditional ceremony becomes less certain.

At an April 23 governing board meeting, school leaders provided ideas to governing board members for ways to celebrate seniors and eighth graders as the end of the school year approaches. A committee of teachers and other staff met earlier in the day.

According to Williams High School Principal Eric Evans, the committee looked at three possible scenarios for WHS graduation:

Option A is that schools will reopen and graduation can continue as planned;

Option B is that the school will host an outdoor ceremony with social distancing and group size considerations; and

Option C is the school will organize a drive-thru or drive-in style graduation.

Evans said if option B was chosen, the school would follow CDC (Center for Disease Control) guidelines for social distancing and the school would include a designated number of chairs and reserved spaces for each graduate. Community members would assist with crowd control.

If option C was chosen, graduates would be spaced apart in an outdoor setting and supporters such as grandparents, parents, other family members and friends would remain in their vehicles like a drive-in theatre.

School board member and Williams Police Chief Herman Nixon said based on his weekly meetings with Gov. Doug Ducey’s office, he believes option B is the most likely scenario.

“I don’t see the state opening up in time for our graduation,” Nixon said.

In addition to a ceremony, administrators are also looking into making a banner for each of the 53 seniors that would be placed on light poles throughout the town. The effort would require collecting photos from the students.

“We only have a month to do it,” said WUSD Superintendent Rick Honsinger. “It will be a hustle.”

The governing board members were supportive of another idea which includes lighting the Williams High School football field every Friday night for 20 minutes to honor the 2020 graduates.

The scoreboard at the field would also be lit at 8:20 p.m. and read “2020.”

“The most important thing to me is to honor these seniors,” Nixon said. Right now our seniors should be in the best times of their lives. They should have their softball and baseball seasons, planning senior trips and senior ditch days- all those things they are going to miss out on.”

Williams Elementary-Middle School Principal Carissa Morrison said the committee also discussed options for eighth graders who are missing the school’s traditional promotion ceremony.

“We dialogued on different ideas,” Morrison said. “And fell upon several great ones.”

Morrison said one idea is to place small posters of the eighth graders on business storefronts through-out town. Another idea is to have a “welcome to high school” event in the fall before school begins.

“That’s what most eight graders are excited about right now anyway, is going to high school,” she said. “We could rebrand the ceremony.”

Honsinger said the district will continue to look into options, and meet with city officials and parents to discuss ideas.

Food distribution and homework

Evans said food distribution and dissemination of school work has improved as the district continues with the school closure. The school is distributing up to 300 breakfast and lunches each day along with homework packets.

“We’re very proud of Chris Sander’s team and Dr. Morrison’s team,” he said.

Evans said although many high school students are taking advantage of school assignments on Google Classroom, he said it has been challenging to reach out to the students who need extra encouragement to finish their coursework for graduation.

“It’s hard enough to get a kid, a senior through the finish line when you see them 4-5 days a week, day in and day out,” he said “And to not have that luxury right now is going to be a bit of a challenge for us to push them through the finish line to get their credits.”

At the elementary-middle school level, Morrison said about 50 percent of the students are turning in homework assignments.

“It starts out higher in the lower grades and gradually decreases, percentage wise, as you get to eighth graders,” she said.

Morrison said teachers are working to reach each of their students to ensure their physical and educational needs are being met.

“At the middle school level it’s more challenging,” she said. “I don’t know if we are reaching everyone, but we are trying.”

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