Some student waivers sought; hope held out for some form of graduations
WHATCOM — One of the biggest challenges during the “stay home, stay healthy” order in Washington state is to keep up with education and graduation requirements for those in school.
Local school systems are managing the situation in various ways.
Lynden Christian Schools moved immediately to an online learning structure once normal schooling ended in mid-March. Some schools will apply for graduation requirement waivers for their seniors, but LC won’t.
“We do not need to waive any graduation requirements for seniors because we have continued school online in a distanced format, so they are meeting all of their state and LC requirements,” said Paul Bootsma, Lynden Christian superintendent.
His counterpart in the public Lynden School District, Superintendent Jim Frey, said every student’s circumstances may be different, so administrators are determining when waivers are appropriate.
“The parameters for granting a waiver are based on individual student circumstance to ensure that those who were on track to graduate prior to the closure will not be negatively impacted due to the closure, and provides for those students who are on the bubble who make a good-faith effort,” he said.
Lynden High School teacher Jordan Vander Veen said that when the initial announcement was made of schools’ closing, his seniors’ biggest sense of loss was about prom.
“It was the tragedy for the day,” Vander Veen said.
Vander Veen isn’t sure if the school will be able to hold some version of a prom, but will likely receive direction from the state regarding a graduation ceremony.
Frey said that, if possible, the school district will plan something allowable under the stay-at-home order.
“If things loosen up over the next month or so, we may be able to pull something off. If things do not loosen up, we will look at something that fits within the proclamation and/or a virtual format,” he said. “At this time we don’t have any specific plans, but we want to celebrate with our seniors and families as a culmination of 13 years of schooling.”
The Mount Baker School District has applied for waivers that will allow waiving of credits on an individual basis for students who are otherwise on track to graduate.
Mary Sewright, superintendent, explains: “This means they are enrolled in classes which could include additional credit retrieval classes. If there is a good-faith effort to complete these courses but due to circumstances they can’t be fully completed, we would be able to waive credits that fit that criteria.
“Teachers, counselors, support staff and administrators are doing everything they can to support students to ensure they graduate in June,” Sewright said.
The district distributed Chromebooks to any student in need of a device to keep up schooling.
“Mount Baker is committed to the success of our seniors, and we are doing everything we can to help them pass their classes and meet their social and emotional needs,” Sewright said. “Teachers, counselors and administrators are in constant contact with students to ensure they are getting the tools, instruction, support and interaction they need to attain graduation requirements.”
Mount Baker would like memorable senior events to be held.
“Senior activities are in the planning stage,” Sewright said. “Student leaders, parents and staff will all have input on how to make events meaningful. It is important that we make the final days of high school, including graduation, special and memorable for our seniors.”
Alyssa Boersma is a senior enrolled in the Whatcom Community College Running Start program through the Lynden School District. She had been homeschooled, but this school year participated in athletics and extracurriculars like FFA and musicals.
Boersma was experiencing a classroom learning environment for the first time at WCC.
“One of the reasons I wanted to go to public schools was for the people,” she said. “I met some really cool people at the college and heard interesting stories from my teachers. However, now that I’m doing school at home again I don’t get to meet new people and hear their stories.”
She almost didn’t sign up for classes for spring quarter after the school switched to online learning, because she prefers the hands-on learning experience so much more.
She says an online choir class is tough.
“The choir class isn’t the easiest because there is a time lag, so we have to mute ourselves and can’t really sing as a choir,” Boersma said.
Despite the difficulties, she enjoys the class and thinks that overall this quarter will be a successful one for her.
Boersma is also missing out on other activities.
“The musical I was involved with at the high school, ‘Guys and Dolls,’ was postponed and I’m not sure when or if we’ll be able to perform what we worked so hard on for five months,” she said.
She hopes this strange 2020 coronavirus experience teaches students more about the realities of life.
“Students at any level of schooling should see this as a learning opportunity and not as a setback. Public schools can’t teach students everything about life. Hopefully students who are learning at home will learn additional skills that they wouldn’t have learned in school,” Boersma said.