Talawanda High School (THS) Principal Tom York announced on March 27 that graduation will be held online this year. The ceremony will be livestreamed on YouTube at 7 p.m. on May 21.
Around 270 seniors will graduate, THS’ largest class yet. Families are encouraged to submit a photo of their graduate in their cap and gown by May 17, so they can be included in the virtual ceremony.
The announcement of a virtual graduation came after Ohio Governor Mike DeWine announced K-12 schools will continue online learning for the remainder of the school year on April 20. Students in the Talawanda School District (TSD) have been learning remotely since March 12.
To aid with the transition to online learning, Communications Director Holli Morrish said TSD gave all students in kindergarten through third grade touch-screen tablets and all students fourth through 12th grade a Chromebook.
The district also ordered internet hotspots for 80 families without internet access. They received 50, while 30 were on backorder. The hotspots were expected to have been all delivered by Monday, May 4.
Seniors can pick up their graduation cap, gown and diploma cover on May 11 at THS. Seniors are being asked to drop off their Chromebooks, chargers, cases, musical instruments, athletic uniforms and anything else belonging to the school at this time.
Diplomas will only be provided to students once all fees are paid and materials are returned. A date for distribution will be announced in the coming weeks.
“I know and understand that our children have worked hard,” TSD Superintendent Edward Theroux wrote in an email on Wednesday. “Some have overcome tremendous challenges to reach this achievement. I believe our children deserve closure and recognition, and we will provide an opportunity to honor them in the [safest] way possible. Please know that our administration and staff are heartbroken that the pandemic is impacting our schools, our students, and our celebrations.”
Morrish said the district will continue to provide breakfast and lunch to students in need through the end of June. They have 12 pick-up locations every Monday at 12 p.m. and 1 p.m where parents can get five days worth of food for their students.
“Any work students can complete I’m happy to help with, but my No. 1 priority is their well-being and making sure their families are safe and have enough food,” anatomy and AP biology teacher Jeff Yuva said.
Because the district recognizes the challenges of online learning, no new content will be introduced to students, and the grading system for the remainder of the school year has changed.
THS students began this quarter with their grades from third quarter and can earn one to three percentage points a week, depending on the work they turn in.
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Grades for the fourth quarter will be averaged with their grade for third quarter. No student can earn above 100 percent. Students who had below a 49.5 percent in a class began the fourth quarter at 49.5 percent.
“Just having a way to boost my grades for this half of the semester and knowing they can only go up is really helping to keep me motivated,” THS junior Sofia Bolda said. “My grades have gone up a lot from where they were and seeing the progress I’ve made is really making me want to keep going.”
Bolda said most of her teachers have been very supportive during the switch to online learning. She said her AP English language and composition teacher, Christine Alfoni, has been checking on students' mental and physical well-being rather than focusing only on the course material.
Bolda said her orchestra director is posting music for them to do at home if they have an instrument, but they have nothing to turn in, while some of her friends in choir have had to record themselves singing and turn it in.
Talawanda Middle School froze all grades as of March 12, and students will only receive extra credit for their third-trimester grade. Seventh-grader Mathias Militzer said he is currently receiving around six hours of work a week, which he finds manageable. However, when online learning first began, he was receiving around 20 hours of work, which he felt was too difficult.
“It looks like they’re trying to challenge the students, but the students are feeling rather overwhelmed at times,” Nicole Thesz, Militzer’s mom, said. “I get the sense that some things that could be manageable in class are made really hard by not having social interaction to break it up.”
Morrish said in anticipation for next year, TSD will soon announce a need for masks for the coming school year. Morrish said she thinks the district will need just less than 7,000 masks, so that each student, teacher and faculty member can have two.
“We’re working on options and alternatives for next year. We haven’t put anything together that is definite, because we don’t have a definite right now,” York said. “Right now, we have to see how our country and our state deals with social distancing and the quarantine. We’re hoping we can at least do a mixture of online and in-person classes.”