Photo banners line the driveway on the Mount Everett Regional School campus in Sheffield to celebrate members of the senior class and all their accomplishments. Photo courtesy Southern Berkshire Regional School District

South County schools get creative about graduations in pandemic era

Graduating seniors have been coming into school, three or four at a time, and walking across the auditorium stage to receive their diplomas. The video footage of the students will be incorporated into a virtual graduation.

South County — For so many South County students, high school graduation used to be a special event marked by the love and proximity of friends and families under the shed at Tanglewood, the historic summer home of the Boston Symphony Orchestra in Stockbridge and Lenox.

Monument Mountain Regional High School interim Principal Kristi Farina. Photo: Paul Kakley

Not in 2020, the year of a worldwide pandemic. Per order of Gov. Charlie Baker, schools across the state were shut down in mid-March, and Baker later ordered them closed for the remainder of the academic year, forcing schools to engage students in distance learning programs and canceling or postponing traditional commencement ceremonies.

The Berkshire Hills Regional School District is a case in point. Superintendent Peter Dillon and Monument Mountain Regional High School Principal Kristi Farina recently sent a letter to The Edge outlining their plans for commencement.

On Sunday, June 7, 110 Monument seniors will participate in a graduation ceremony that honors guidelines for physical distancing. The production of the ceremony has been weeks in the making.

This past week, for example, graduating seniors have been coming into school, three or four at a time, and walking across the auditorium stage to receive their diplomas. The video footage of the students will be incorporated into a virtual graduation that will take place on Sunday at 10 a.m.

Berkshire Hills Regional School District Superintendent Peter Dillon

The graduation will be live streamed on Community Television for the Southern Berkshires, the community-access cable channel. The stream will be available on Monument TV, the student-run television station, by clicking here. On CTSB, it can be found on channel 1302 and on CTSB’s website here.

After the virtual ceremony, students and families will gather at Monument to receive the diplomas drive-thru style and start a car parade. It is expected that the parade will leave the campus at approximately 1:30 p.m. The vehicles will proceed north to Stockbridge, then west to West Stockbridge, then south through Housatonic and to Main Street in Great Barrington. The precise parade route can be found here.

“We’d love to see our community line the route in a socially distanced way with masks on and make a lot of noise in admiration of our graduates,” Dillon and Farina wrote. “We recommend signs, pompoms, cowbells, fog horns, pot lids, old drums and anything you can come up with. If you have it, wear Spartan gear or maroon and white.”

Lenox Public Schools Superintendent Bill Cameron at a Massachusetts Association of School Committees legislative forum Oct. 1, 2018, at Lee Middle and High School. At right is state Sen. Adam Hinds, D-Pittsfield. Photo: Terry Cowgill

In Lenox, Superintendent Bill Cameron said the graduation ceremony will take place on Sunday, June 14, at 1 p.m. in the parking lot in front of Lenox Memorial Middle and High School, “with the closest members of the Class of 2020’s community” present.

The plan, which was cleared by the Lenox Board of Health and the Tri Town Health Department, will be limited to graduates and their immediate family members only. Families are limited to attend in one vehicle only.

A sign honoring Lenox Memorial Middle and High School graduating senior Sierra O’Brien in front of her home. Photo courtesy Facebook

Families must sign up in advance of the graduation and only those who have pre-registered may attend. All attendees must wear face coverings before, during and after the ceremony. The only exceptions are for medical reasons or other disabling conditions. Speakers may remove masks during their remarks.

Staff or attendants will direct each car to its assigned parking space. Each space will be at least one full parking space from the next occupied space.

Families and graduates will remain in their own vehicles to maintain social distancing. Visibility of the ceremony will be enhanced through the use of a large LCD day-time display screen raised 16 feet high in the air and the audio will be heard in each vehicle via FM radio.

On the platform, all administration, speakers and distinguished guests will be limited and must be seated 6 feet apart. Graduates will be invited to walk across the stage individually and receive their diploma. Diplomas will be distributed cautiously (e.g. placing each diploma on a table as the graduate walks by to retrieve it). No hugging or hand shaking should occur.

“The ceremony planned is a sincere effort to make the best of a socially and medically difficult situation,” Cameron told The Edge. “Many parents and just about all Lenox seniors are, for obvious reasons, seeking to ensure that formal graduation, which has rich traditions in Lenox, be as much like what could have been expected, but for COVID-19, as possible.”

A large portable sign will greet Mount Everett graduates as they arrive for a modified graduation ceremony on June 6. Photo courtesy Southern Berkshire Regional School District

At the Southern Berkshire Regional School District in Sheffield, Superintendent Beth Regulbuto reports that the graduation plan will have three parts: a virtual awards ceremony on Thursday, June 4, at 6 p.m.; a physically-distanced graduation ceremony at the campus in the area of the Mount Everett Regional School varsity baseball field on Saturday, June 6, at 10 a.m.; and a barbecue reception tentatively scheduled for Saturday, Aug. 1, at noon. Click here to see more details of the plan.

“We worked very closely with our local board of health to work through the details of this plan, and they were incredibly supportive and helpful in the design and development of this graduation experience,” Regulbuto told The Edge. “Our school community, as always, is dedicated to education and ready, willing and able to do whatever it takes to ensure SBRSD students and families experience educational excellence.”

Regulbuto said the administration and the school committee wanted to make the graduation experience of the seniors “as close to the traditional experience as we are able to, because that is what they wanted … We wanted everyone to be able to participate.”

Southern Berkshire Regional School Committee Chair Jane Burke, left, delivered a graduation sign to valedictorian Sofia Giumarro’s house. Photo courtesy Southern Berkshire Regional School District

The administration and about 12 volunteer members of faculty and staff surprised seniors recently by delivering graduation signs to their homes. Regulbuto and school committee chairperson Jane Burke personally delivered a sign to 2020 valedictorian Sofia Giumarro to congratulate her in person.

“We felt it was important to honor our 55 graduates on June 6, knowing that many of our students are moving on to their next phases soon after graduation, including five students entering the military,” Regulbuto said.

All of the above graduation ceremonies will be available for replay on CTSB. The Edge also reached out to officials in the Lee Public Schools but has not received a reply. If a reply is received after publication, it will be added it to this story.