As the 2020-21 school year came to a close, students and families embraced the many opportunities to celebrate with more traditional milestone events. Some of the events were rethought and refreshed in light of the pandemic. The focus was on bringing on as many people together as possible to provide closure to an unparalleled school year.
The Solon High School class of 2021 graduated outdoors on a perfect evening at Stewart Field. The graduates filed into the stadium to “Pomp & Circumstance” and took their seats on chairs spaced across the field. With families and friends cheering from the stands, the graduates received diplomas and tossed their caps in the air to mark a successful and celebratory end to their time in the Solon schools.
Their senior year was not how they would have scripted it, but they were resilient and made the most of the opportunities they had. Facing an all-remote start to their senior year, seniors had staged an August car parade and gathering in the school’s parking lot as a way to come together. Similarly, they gathered for an outdoor movie night in the stadium a week before they graduated for an outdoor movie night to watch Ferris Bueller’s “Day Off” on the stadium scoreboard screen.
Other events helped to bring in-person students together with their peers who had been learning virtually. All virtual learners were invited to join these on-campus events.
With the help of parent volunteers, students at Parkside, Lewis and Roxbury elementary schools participated in field days, the Cleveland Metroparks Survivor Day program, spirit assemblies with the Cleveland Indians condiment mascots and last-day parties. Some events were reimagined such as a third-grade fun night that evolved this year into a family scavenger hunt to points of interest around Solon. Leaving their elementary schools is a significant transition for fourth-grade students and each school held clap-outs or a new fourth-grade car parade celebration.
Orchard Middle School fifth- and sixth-grade students also enjoyed end-of-year parties and the sixth graders recreated the camp cookout breakfasts that they missed out on because outdoor education had to be canceled this year. Seventh- and eighth-grade students also planned outdoor team activities.
As Solon schools students and families turned the page on the 2020-21 school year, the district’s goal for the coming school year is” all in,” with students attending in person. If conditions continue to be favorable, students will see school environments that look closer to what they experienced before the pandemic as they head back into classrooms in August. Athletics and extracurricular activities, such as intramural activities, club meetings and ensembles, will all be in person. Students will all have traditional lunches in the school cafeterias.
Using Zoom, the Solon schools last year created a fully synchronous classroom experience for virtual and in-person students. However, moving into the 2021-22 school year, the district is planning for an educational model without simultaneous teaching of students via Zoom. Solon families have already selected whether they want their children to learn in person with Solon teachers or to attend school virtually through an outside virtual academy.
The district’s plans include staffing at the schools to maximize spacing in classrooms. Desk shields will no longer be used, but commonsense sanitizing and hand washing protocols will continue. It’s still too early to make final decisions about certain protocols for the return to school, such as face masks.
Fred Bolden is superintendent of the Solon School District.