“I am always ready to learn although I do not always like being taught.”
— Sir Winston Churchill
There were no textbooks or lesson plans or study guides at the ready, no sets of overhead projector transparencies, no video series to check out from the school resource center. CliffsNotes — not even in our dreams.
From the state Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction on down, those with ties to formal education in Washington have been attempting to educate themselves on COVID-19 while creating their curriculum on the go and one day at a time — unsettled, incomplete and always evolving.
We’ve learned to wait. Tomorrow the numbers will change — and like the weather forecast, the best predictions can easily and quickly go awry.
With the statewide school closure and stay-at-home order in place for several weeks now, it’s a struggle for educators and students alike to engage in meaningful teaching and learning. Many are pulling it off; many aren’t.
Daunting questions hover: How can each and every student attain the resources needed to successfully learn from home? What will school look like in September?
And then there’s our senior class, members of whom under normal circumstances would be itching with positive anticipation right about now. But those members of the Class of 2020 are now playing a waiting game of their own and asking this question: What will my commencement ceremony look like? For that matter, will we even have one?
Thousands of Yakima Valley 12th-graders are nearing the end of a 13-year countdown to high school graduation, a countdown that began on their first day of kindergarten. It’s a beyond-busy school year, full of activities and events unique to each graduating class: Senior pictures, class rings, senior skip (don’t tell anyone!), senior projects — plus preparation for college for many. Graduation is a milestone moment for most students and their families, along with teachers and school administrators.
Only there’s a problem.
We’re still in stay-at-home mode, still encouraging social distancing, still trying to flatten the curve. Packing hundreds of kids and hundreds more spectators — thousands in some cases — into the Yakima Valley SunDome, as many of the Valley’s larger high schools do each June for commencement, would fly in the face of it all.
Some districts already have settled or nearly settled on nontraditional ceremonies, notably Selah High. The current plan is for graduating seniors to pull up by car, one at a time, to a stage at the football stadium. There, clad in cap and gown, they will exit the vehicle, walk across the stage, accept their diploma cover, then get back into the vehicle and take part in a parade through town.
The Yakima School District is also considering a parade of vehicles as part of its graduation ceremonies, along with school officials in personal protective gear handing out diplomas.
Some school districts are holding out hopes for better news and the chance to have a ceremony with largely traditional elements. Many districts, however, are playing the waiting game, with no set plans.
Under normal circumstances, this could be viewed as unwise. But these are anything but normal circumstances, and one can argue that today there’s wisdom in waiting.
When the school shutdown was announced, the state Superintendent’s Office encouraged local school districts to use education strategies that cater to their unique communities. Likewise, we encourage the same approach for Class of 2020 commencement, and we encourage districts to take the time to gather input from all stakeholders — students, parents, teachers and administrators, community members — as they forge plans for their graduation ceremony. There’s no point in pretending that this year is like any other.
We know that districts can’t wait forever. Those that have waited this long: That’s OK. Get it right, for the sake of your seniors and your community. Throw out the textbooks and lesson plans and graduation CliffsNotes. Just remember: Creativity is encouraged; caution is paramount.