Wilkes Central students in cap and gown

SENIOR MEMORIES—Yarmin Contreras Cervantes takes a photo of senior classmate Jessica Lorenzana Puebla as Puebla stands beside the banner with her name and photo at Wilkes Central High School. The two just had their cap and gown portrait photos made.

Input on three potential high school graduation ceremony concepts is being sought from Wilkes County’s seniors as part of the planning process for marking this occasion, said Wilkes School Superintendent Mark Byrd.

Byrd said seniors at the five Wilkes high schools are being contacted to indicate in a short survey if they prefer virtual ceremonies, drive-up or drive-through ceremonies or delaying graduation ceremonies to a time when attendance numbers won’t have to be as limited.

He said that if any members of the class of 2020 haven’t been contacted yet by their schools, they will be shortly. Byrd encouraged them to provide feedback.

While all of this may look different from what has been done before, members of the class of 2020 should decide what their ceremonies look like, said Byrd. “We are there to celebrate them, so why not let them tell us what they feel is best?”

“We want to do everything we can to make this a special time for the 654 members of the class of 2020 in Wilkes County, while ensuring their safety and well-being,” he added.

“Our hearts go out to these seniors for the way their last year of high school is ending, but I continue to hear stories of how they are dealing with adversity. I truly believe the class of 2020 may be more resilient than many who graduated before them because of this pandemic,” Byrd stated.

He said Gov. Roy Cooper provided guidance to superintendents on high school graduation ceremonies in relation to the COVID-19 pandemic on May 1.

Byrd said social distancing guidelines in place when the ceremonies are held will have to be followed, as well as all guidance from executive orders. Local guidelines could be a factor as well.

He said information on decisions and dates and times of ceremonies will be provided as soon as possible, but all five high schools will plan similar ceremonies once all this data is gathered and decisions are made.

Byrd expressed appreciation for the community support shown for the class of 2020 and said he hopes to see it continue throughout the summer months.

Elementary, middle schools

Byrd said that due to the coronavirus pandemic and the importance of social distancing, the Wilkes County Schools won’t host drive-through awards ceremonies or promotion activities for elementary or middle schools to conclude the 2019-20 school year.

He said that after discussing it with the Wilkes Board of Education and with advice from the board’s attorney, this decision was made in the best interest of the safety and health of students and the community as a whole.

“As the numbers of positive cases of COVID-19 continue to rise throughout our county, we felt this decision was in everyone’s best interest,” Byrd said.

“While our entire district is very proud of the accomplishments of the students in these grade levels, we feel this difficult decision is in the best interest of their safety. We look forward to having multiple opportunities to celebrate their accomplishments for many years to come.”

Byrd specifically referenced the class of 2024 (current eighth-graders about to start high school), the class of 2027 (current fifth-graders transitioning to middle school in 2020-21) and the class of 2032 (current kindergarten students about to start first grade) and stated that great things are expected from all of these students.

Schools will still schedule days for students to collect their personal belongings and turn in textbooks and technology devices, as these events are easier to maintain social distancing.

Both elementary and middle schools will still have the opportunity to arrange virtual awards ceremonies or recognitions that don’t require gatherings on school campuses.

New school year

Byrd said during a Wilkes Economic Corp. board meeting Friday that local school officials are “also starting to have a lot of discussions about what re-entry into the schools in the fall will look like and that may look different than any of us have ever seen.”

The 2020-21 Wilkes school calendar lists classes starting Aug. 24, but legislation approved by the N.C. General Assembly and signed into law by Cooper lets classes start as early as Aug. 17 next year.

Journal-Patriot graduation section

The newspaper is producing a high school graduation section, despite the COVID-19-related closure of schools for the last 2½ months of the academic year. This special section will include photos of all Wilkes high school seniors and junior marshals this year, plus details about their honors and activities and more about them. 

Wilkes high school seniors and junior marshals are asked to provide this information about themselves on forms and submit these to the Wilkes Journal-Patriot. These accompany this article and can also be found and filled out here (seniors) (junior marshals).

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