Woodland Public Schools staff celebrates graduates of all ages throughout the district with commencement ceremonies that respect social distancing while still celebrating students’ accomplishments. From students just beginning their academic careers to those proceeding on to the final four years and this year’s graduating class, Woodland saw a lot to celebrate in spite of the limiting factors presented by the historic pandemic.
Columbia Elementary School's Early Intervention Special Education Preschool staff decorated their cars and made special trips to the homes of each of their graduates
Columbia Elementary School’s Early Intervention Special Education Preschool staff put on their annual graduation with an added twist – this year, the staff visited their graduates. For each graduate, the staff held car parades featuring their seven decorated cars and carefully-planned routes. At each home, Patricia “Patty” Morgan, the classroom teacher, along with her three assistants Kathleen Bottemiller, Mary Stumbaugh, and Shannon Tracy (all in separate cars) cheered each graduate and brought balloons and blew huge bubbles throughout yards and driveways.
Staff members made posters, blew bubbles, and cheered on their preschool graduates.
Patty makes a point of acknowledging her students’ accomplishments at the end of every school year, and she wasn’t about to let the pandemic get in her way. “Our posse of seven cars had everything you can imagine dangling outside of our cars,” said Patty. “we drove all through Woodland and up to Amboy to make certain every child who was available could be celebrated as they each very much deserved.”
Caleb Osorio is the first student to have attended the Lewis River Academy program since Kindergarten and will be moving on to Woodland High School this fall.
Woodland Public Schools’ homeschool program, Lewis River Academy (LRA), serves students from Kindergarten through eighth grade, and this year brought a very special graduate: Caleb Osorio is the first student to attend the program since kindergarten.
Caleb greatly appreciated the flexibility of the program combined with the ability to still participate at school. “I found it really awesome as I take part in a variety of extracurricular activities,” he said. “LRA gave me the flexibility to take part in my activities while working at my own pace.”
While only at the very beginning of his high school experience, Caleb already has plans for college. “I’m really looking forward to preparing for college at Woodland High school,” he said. “Although it’s a few years off, I’m thinking about attending Walla Walla University after I graduate.”
The staff of TEAM High School recognized each of their more than 30 graduates with individualized commencement ceremonies - one every 15 minutes - all day on Saturday.
The commencement ceremony for TEAM High School, Woodland Public Schools’ alternative high school, tends to be a very intimate affair with one of the staff members giving a speech about what makes each individual graduate special and unique to the program. Not wanting to abandon this long-held tradition, the staff came up with a new approach to still hold the ceremony but also respect social distancing – one graduate at a time with only their family would come to the high school, attend a mini-commencement with a speech from a staff member, and receive their diploma.
The commencement ceremony took place on Saturday, June 27 beginning at 10:00 a.m. With more than 30 graduates walking in the ceremony this year and only one graduate every 15 minutes, the entire commencement took hours, ending after 6 p.m. that evening. “One of the benefits of being a small school with a manageable size of graduates is that we have some flexibility with our ceremony options,” said Elizabeth “Liz” Vallaire, TEAM’s math and science teacher. “Rather than having a very limited big ceremony, we wanted to give each student a specialized experience with a dedicated mini-commencement for each grad.”
In between each graduate, a team of staff members sanitized the area to ensure proper precautions took place to prevent the potential spread of the novel coronavirus COVID-19. After having their graduate portrait taken and the ceremony, graduates and their families had the opportunity to take photos at the dedicated “selfie station,” a specially-decorated area just outside Woodland High School.
For the entire TEAM staff, the transition to remote learning meant not seeing their students each day. “One of my favorite things about our small school is how well we get to know our students as those personal relationships are crucial to our students’ success,” said Liz. “Email is so much less personal and not getting to watch my students work through problems in-person makes it much more difficult to gauge what kind of learner a student is.”
In addition to teaching, Liz also serves as the school’s senior advisor and graduation coach. “I feel personally responsible for making sure everyone who wants to graduate finishes on-time,” she said. “Having to rely on students checking emails, voicemails, or responding to texts rather than seeing them 4-5 days a week has caused me a lot of anxiety; I’m particularly grateful to have a dedicated work text phone since that’s the easiest way to get ahold of students these days.”
Over the course of the year, TEAM High School lost a student who passed away suddenly in February, Noah Gray. In order to honor his memory, the staff held an honorary commencement ceremony for his family with Mary Burnett, one of the school’s institutional aides, giving the speech about Noah and his impact on the school. An empty chair with a cap and gown was placed on the speech to commemorate his passing and his contributions as a student at the school.
Woodland High School’s Class of 2020 will graduate on Friday, July 10, 2020. Unfortunately, given the phased requirements facing Clark and Cowlitz counties, the ceremony cannot be held in-person and will be held live online streamed via YouTube.
The commencement ceremony begins at 7 p.m. and can be watched from Woodland High School’s YouTube channel: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1fFKm7p6PMs