Graduation cap

Graduation cap

The announcement last week that Lawrence County would move Friday into the green phase of COVID-19 restrictions has prompted some school districts to revisit their graduation plans.

Some have decided to go ahead with outdoor commencements, while others have found hybrids of ceremonies to provide seniors with a memorable sendoff.

Others, because of time constraints and logistics, felt it is better to keep the original plans in place that were made under the threat of the coronavirus contagion. Nearly all of the district's already had plans in place for either all-virtual graduations or one-on-one conferrals of diplomas on stage with a few family members present.

Some of those graduations have concluded, and seniors are already moving on to start the rest of their lives.

Some districts are going beyond the virtual/video graduations, praying for fair weather and hosting outdoor ceremonies with social distancing and other precautions in place to give their seniors that extra something to remember about graduation day.

Here is a look at which districts are doing — or have done — what in Lawrence County:

ELLWOOD CITY AREA SCHOOL DISTRICT

Ellwood City is in the process of putting together a recording of seniors entering the auditorium with 10 family members at a time. Each student will leave a message and the production is to be completed for online viewing beginning in mid-June. Each student will receive a copy of it, according to superintendent Joe Mancini. 

As an addition to festivities as a result of "going green," the new graduates will participate in a parade Tuesday, from Ewing Park through town. The seniors, only, will report to the auditorium at 6:15 p.m., where the class president will give a speech, then they all will turn their tassels. The parade of all of the seniors will begin at 7 p.m., moving from Ewing Park through town, Mancini said.

The principal is working with the class officers and advisers to possible make plans for a senior picnic sometime in the summer.

LAUREL SCHOOL DISTRICT

The Laurel School District is scheduling an outdoor commencement and it also is presenting an official, recorded graduation ceremony for its 80 seniors. Graduates and their parents will have two opportunities for a commencement, and the outdoor stadium one is optional.

The outdoor commencement is planned for 7 p.m. June 5 in the Laurel High School football stadium. The prerecorded commencement will become available online that night as well, according to Superintendent Len Rich, and each senior will get a copy of it.

If a graduate wants to attend the stadium commencement, there will be an in-person ceremony that enforces social distancing and face masks, and the district is limiting the numbers of family members and where and how spectators may enter the stadium.

"We will be using about a third of the capacity of the Laurel stadium," Rich said. Family members will have assigned seats by students' last names. Those seated in the stands will be socially distanced and spectators must wear masks, he indicated.

The spectators on the home side will use one gate, those on the away side will use a separate gate. Graduates will proceed in separately.

Rich noted that the principal, Kevin Mahoney, will determine the number of tickets available per family and will distribute them. Graduating seniors will be seated on the field eight feet apart and will wear caps, gowns and masks.

There will be no handshakes for the presentation of diplomas, Rich said. Rather, the school board president, Steve Sickafuse, wearing gloves will place the diploma on a table and the graduate will pick it up.

Commencement speeches will be presented by teacher Greg Walzer, the valedictorian and salutatorian. Mahoney will present the class and Rich will accept the class.

LAWRENCE COUNTY CAREER AND TECHNICAL CENTER

Lawrence County Career and Technical Center will hold an in-person commencement at 7 p.m. June 4 at Taggart Stadium. About 115 seniors will graduate from the school this week. The ceremony is in addition to a virtual graduation put on video by the school.

"The New Castle school district has been gracious to allow us to use the stadium," the center's director, Len Rich, said.

Families who attend will be socially distanced and everyone must wear masks. The graduating seniors each will be given a certain number of tickets for family to attend. The seniors will be socially distanced on the football field, and there will be no physical contact with the students during the conferral.

Diplomas will be presented by the shop teachers, who, wearing gloves, will place them on a table, and each student will pick up his or her diploma. Commencement speakers will be the class officers, valedictorian and salutatorian, and Debra Allebach, a a member of the school's joint operating committee. Principal Michael Milanovich will present the class and Rich will accept the class.

The pre-recorded ceremony will be available for viewing online as of 7 p.m. that night. That involves a recording with a slide presentation for each senior for the presentation of diplomas, where the students go into the school one at a time to receive the diplomas onstage. The seniors will go to the school Monday and Tuesday and will go on stage, one at a time, between 4 and 8 p.m. They are assigned specific times.

"It's not one or the other, or they can do both," Rich said of the two options. If a student or family member has an autoimmune disorder or other high-risk problem or doesn't feel safe, they don't have to come," Rich said, because everyone will be included in the virtual (online) ceremony. The stadium commencement is only for those seniors who wish to participate.

Rich said he opted to have the in-person ceremony, because "these students have worked for 13 years for this moment. With these unique circumstances, they deserve as many alternatives we can provide. Be it virtual or in person, if we can provide these opportunities and let them make a decision, we've exhausted everything we can do for them.

"For most of the career and technical students, this is the one and only commencement that they're ever going to have," he said. "Then you move forward to the rest of your life." 

MOHAWK AREA SCHOOL DISTRICT

The school district has scheduled July 9 for an in-person graduation ceremony at the Scottish Rite Cathedral. The district will send out a survey regarding the ceremony and event parameters.

"Even though we knew we were doing a virtual graduation, we had a backup plan in place from the beginning," Superintendent Dr. Mike Leitera said, hoping that the COVID-19 restrictions would eventually be relaxed.

The district recorded a graduation ceremony with the seniors as a multifaceted presentation with pictures with families. Graduation date for seniors was May 28, and students will receive their diplomas in the mail. 

NESHANNOCK TOWNSHIP SCHOOL DISTRICT

Commencement for 92 seniors is scheduled for 7 p.m. June 4 in the high school auditorium. Seniors may take up to five guests and are to arrive at different time intervals, according to information sent out by the district. All guests will have their temperatures scanned and will be directed where to go to proceed safely into the auditorium. 

All graduates and guests are required to wear face masks. No one will be allowed in the building with a temperature of 100.4 degrees or higher. Social distancing will be enforced, and the diploma conferral will be livestreamed on the district's Facebook page, ntsd.org.

Following the ceremony, guests are encouraged to greet graduates with celebratory cheers and horn honking from their vehicles in the front parking lot. Graduates will then proceed into the building (near the choir room) in order to exit through the rear doors to the rear parking lot.

Graduates who drove there with family may join them at the end of the march.

At the end of the march, the last graduate entering the building will mark the conclusion of the celebration. Due to social distancing regulations, no graduates or guests are permitted to remain on the school campus.

Posters of the graduates have been placed in front of the high school, in front of the Neshannock Township municipal building and Castle Realty to honor them.

NEW CASTLE AREA SCHOOL DISTRICT

The New Castle Area School District has scrapped its original graduation plans for the auditorium and instead has scheduled an outdoor commencement for 7:30 p.m. June 15 at Taggart Stadium.

If it rains that night, the event will be moved to June 16, according to Superintendent Debbie DeBlasio.

The outdoor football stadium commencement will involve socially distanced seating, a limited number of tickets issued per family of each graduate, temperatures being be taken and security checks being made at the gate, and face masks being required by the district, under the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines. 

All students will be seated six feet apart. One by one, they will walk up to stage for their diplomas. 

"We're doing everything we can do to make this a great graduation for these kids," DeBlasio said. In addition to the conferring of diplomas, the ceremony also will include speeches by two chosen valedictorians, the senior class president, high school principal Richard Litrenta, and the keynote address by Dr. Elizabeth Piccione, a cardiologist and alumna of New Castle High School. DeBlasio also will give remarks, and select students will perform musical numbers.

UNION AREA SCHOOL DISTRICT

The 55 Union Area School District's seniors will gather for a parade at 7:30 p.m. Saturday at the elementary school. The seniors dressed in their caps and gowns in their decorated cars will travel to the high school, and families and friends will park along that route to honk and cheer them on from their cars.

The district will present the graduating seniors with gift bags and will conduct a drive-in-style awards ceremony with recognitions for scholarships, honor roll, high honor roll and citizenship awards, superintendent Mike Ross said. The event is all drive-in style so people can watch it on a big screen.

Ross and the administrators will be in front of the school in their regalia. 

"This is to give them an to give them an opportunity to celebrate together," Ross said. The actual commencement ceremony, in lieu of a virtual ceremony, will be an outdoor commencement at the football field. Originally it was planned for July 8, but since the county has gone into the green phase, that date could be moved up, Ross said, but no firm decisions have been made yet.

"We're saving their diplomas for that day, unless they want them earlier or are unable to attend in July," he said. 

SHENANGO AREA SCHOOL DISTRICT

Graduation festivities in the Shenango Area School District concluded Friday night with a parade through the nearby plaza parking lot of parent and friends. The district conferred its diplomas individually to students Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday this week as part of a virtual presentation with speeches that will be given to each graduate, according to Superintendent Dr. Mike Schreck.

"We've been bringing each family in with the students," he said, noting that the parents have been appreciative of how the district has set up the commencement exercises. 

WILMINGTON AREA HIGH SCHOOL

The community is invited to celebrate the Wilmington High School class of 2020 by participating in a drive-through parade from 6 to 8 p.m. Friday (rain date is June 6), through the parking lot of Victory Christian Center on Cowden Road. The procession will allow family, friends, teachers and the community to extend well wishes and congratulations to the 86 graduating seniors.

The seniors will be parked in cars throughout the lot, adhering to social distancing guidelines. Participants in the parade route must remain in their vehicles and will drive slowly through the lot. Volunteers will be available to direct the cars.

All seniors are to arrive at the parking lot by 5:15 p.m. in their caps and gowns and have their individual vehicles decorated. Noisemakers are welcome. The event, which will follow the week's graduation ceremonies, is being planned by Live New Wilmington, a nonprofit civic organization.

A baccalaureate service will be aired online for the Class of 2020 from the New Wilmington Presbyterian Church at 7 p.m. Sunday, through New Wilmington Presbyterian Church livestream.com.

Even though Lawrence County is now in the green phase of COVID-19 recovery, the Wilmington Area School District has not wavered in its original plans to have an in-person graduation ceremony in the auditorium. Graduating seniors will walk across the stage at designated times over a three day period, Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, with social distancing and other precautions.

The school district sits on the cusp of Lawrence and Mercer counties, and although Lawrence County's COVID-19 designation is changed to green, which allows gathering of only 250 people, Mercer County still remains in the stricter yellow phase. The district has students enrolled from both counties.

"Green doesn't mean you can get into large groups," Superintendent Dr. Jeffrey Matty reasoned, "and we still have Mercer County as yellow. Even if it had gone green, we would still keep it the way it is set, for the safety of all of our workers and students."

Some of the district's graduating seniors are entering the military, and the district wants them to be involved in the three-day graduation ceremony, Matty said. "We're doing something so that every student is showing up."

The seniors will report to the school, accompanied by up to four family members, at their assigned dates and times to receive their diplomas from administrators.

"We feel that's the safest way for us, it's already planned and we don't need a rain date, either," Matty said. "The main thing is that they get to walk across the stage."

dwachter@ncnewsonline.com

Reporter

Debbie's been a journalist at the New Castle News since 1978, and covers county government, police and fire, New Castle schools, environment and various other realms. She also writes features, takes photos and video and copy edits.

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