Grad ceremonies, school closings downsized in District 191
Packed grandstands, a setting sun and cap-flinging graduates encircling the field are traditional features of Burnsville High School commencement ceremonies.
The nearest the Class of 2020 will come to that is a possible “senior send-off” gathering at Pates Stadium in early August, depending on health guidance from the state.
“Having graduation at our high school, and when the weather’s nice, having it at Pates Stadium, means a lot to our kids and families,” Principal Dave Helke said. “They want to be in that atmosphere of Pates Stadium.”
Because of the pandemic, a virtual BHS commencement on Friday, June 5, at 6 p.m. will have to do. It’s one of four graduation ceremonies planned in Burnsville-Eagan-Savage School District 191.
The pandemic has also downsized plans to celebrate the legacies of three schools the district is closing this year: Marion W. Savage and Sioux Trail elementary schools and Metcalf Middle School.
The School Board heard reports on the changes in plans at its May 14 virtual meeting.
On May 8, the state Department of Education banned indoor and outdoor graduation ceremonies for this year.
With input from students, the school fashioned a virtual ceremony that will preserve pieces of tradition. There will be caps and gowns. Teacher readers selected by a vote of seniors will read each graduate’s name. The teachers will wear graduation robes.
Each graduate’s picture will be shown on-screen. A pomp and circumstance march recorded by the Minnesota Chamber Orchestra will open the ceremony, which will be preceded by a half-hour video and photo tribute to the Class of 2020.
There will be student speakers and messages from staff members. District Superintendent Theresa Battle will speak.
“We want to keep the ceremony as true to what we do as possible,” Helke said.
Graduation packages with cap and gown, a diploma cover and a program will be distributed the week of May 26.
Some form of community recognition for graduates the evening of the ceremony is in the works, Helke said.
The ceremony will be broadcast at 6 p.m. on the District 191 YouTube channel.
“The difficult side is this is not something as an educator we want to be doing,” Assistant Superintendent Brian Gersich said. “Graduation is the culmination of what we do and why we’re here.”
School officials consulted with senior class officers and senior leaders of key student groups and held a Zoom meeting with more than 200 seniors, Helke said.
“Their year came to a very abrupt end,” he said. “They’ve missed out on some activities and events, and obviously they haven’t been able to be together as they close out their academic career.”
A survey of the 200 seniors showed that nearly 80 percent would likely or very likely return to school for a senior send-off in August, Helke said.
Burnsville Alternative High School
The school will celebrate its 67 graduates with a virtual commencement on Thursday, June 4, at 5 p.m. It will include four student speakers in caps and gowns, comments from teachers, an alumni speaker reading names and pictures of students as their names are read, Principal Kelly Ronn said.
Each graduate will receive a framed photo and a class T-shirt, she said. Drive-thru presentations of the gifts are planned.
Each of the 16 graduates of the program for students ages 18 to 21 will be assigned a time to arrive for contactless pickup of diplomas and class T-shirts signed by staff.
Students will hold up their diplomas for a photo and return to their vehicles.
A video recording will include messages from staff members and Superintendent Battle.
The graduation ceremony will include a 25-minute video and photo tribute to program graduates and debut on Thursday, June 4, at 6 p.m.
The ceremony will include student names and photos and introductions by teachers.
Honorees will include GED and paraprofessional graduates and students who passed citizenship or bus driver exams.
Schools made end-of-year plans to “honor history” and “provide some positive closure” for the three schools, Gersich said.
Pre-pandemic, M.W. Savage had planned an enhanced track and field day, a fifth-grade send-off, books and a yearbook for each student, a free party and dance, and an assembly on the last day of school.
Plans have been reduced to a neighborhood parade or reverse parade, and teachers including special cards with their students’ books and yearbooks.
Sioux Trail had planned Sioux Trail Celebration Week, with a lip dub video, community walk, all-school service project and assembly, a picnic and reception for the community and former students and staffers, and a community photo.
Instead, teachers have held a driving parade. Students have received goodie bags. An end-of-year video is planned, along with yearbook distribution.
Depending on health guidance, the Parent-Teacher Organization may eventually hold a gathering.
Metcalf had planned a school and community barbecue, a carnival, a field day, a drama matinee, an all-school dance and a staff and student talent show.
Their replacements include a possible reverse parade, student grab bags and Metcalf fun facts.