It may have been a tumultuous spring semester for Jamestown High School seniors but it's going to end the way they planned - with a traditional graduation ceremony on May 24.
"Your high school graduation is like the highlight moment you look forward to your whole school career," said Calli Lynch, Jamestown High School senior class president. "We wanted to be able to have the ceremony in person with all our friends and family,"
North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum issued a statement Thursday stating that he will be allowing the use of school property to hold graduation ceremonies with proper safety precautions taken. Rob Lech, Jamestown Public Schools superintendent, communicated with city officials, Central Valley Health District and emergency services Thursday about the ceremony. No additional details have been released at this time.
The ceremony is on but the 157 seniors have more to look forward to as Adam Gehlhar, Jamestown High School principal, said the school and community have made efforts to recognize seniors leading up to the culminating event.
"The graduation is one piece and then the senior experience is another piece," Gehlhar said. "Last week we distributed yard signs, we did our cap and gown distribution and that was another great time to show our support. We have gotten a lot of support from businesses (and) parents and students recognizing this is a fluid situation."
Stutsman Harley-Davidson will be hosting a drive-thru picnic for the Class of 2020 on Friday with desserts provided by Dairy Queen. The picnic is scheduled to run from 11:30 a.m to 1:30 p.m. Gehlhar said more community support came from the BluFrog Realty. BluFrog contacted Gehlhar expressing a desire to design and provide the senior class with T-shirts.
"Obviously, we are all disappointed about missing the end of our senior year, but I know we are all grateful for the time we did have together and the memories we made," Lynch said. "Going forward I know this will make us all more appreciative of what we have and not take anything for granted."
Once seniors have left JHS behind, there will be decisions to be made involving the educational futures of those still in the Jamestown Public School District
"That's the state of planning that we are in now 'is what does reopening look like?,'" Lech said. "I wish we could answer that question, I think our families would like an answer to that question, our teachers would, our support staff, I certainly would like an answer to that question but the reality is that we don't know yet."
Gehlhar said JHS is doing its best to position itself well if Burgum releases a statement stating schools cannot open come August.
"We have created contingency plans for what school would look like in a few different scenarios," Gehlhar said. "That's been on our mind constantly just planning, preparing and executing implemental planning for the phase we are at right now and so we will be ready to respond and provide guidance as those things change."
While Gehlhar said it is very exciting to think about getting back into the schools and regaining the social interaction, he and Lech acknowledged positives that have come as results of the pandemic.
"I know the governor has reinforced North Dakota as a shining star in the virtual learning that has taken place across the country and I think that has a lot to do with the quality of educators that are in the classrooms," Lech said. "We were actually already completed with a task force to look at an online learning management system for the next school year and we were talking about how to appropriately prepare our staff and students to make that transition.
"Living in a virtual learning environment for the last number of weeks has certainly aided that transition," he said. "Would it look like this (next year)? Absolutely not. But it does provide a level of comfort of utilizing an online learning management system."
Lech commended the group of educators in the district for making the switch to an online platform in a matter of days. Gehlhar said the teachers' abilities to learn and adjust have positioned the district well for the coming school year.
"We have a great appreciation for our teachers," Gehlhar said. "Their flexibility and response to this have been outstanding and I know whatever the situation is going into next year - the planning we have done, the process we are in is going to make us more ready to respond to whatever comes. Our teachers are learners, they are going to learn and adapt and make the best out of every situation. We have seen that this spring."