The coronavirus pandemic shutdown brought many challenges for schools trying to keep their kids safe, but for Paul Kesler, principal of Batavia High School, the concerns were greater than the obvious.
Kesler wanted to make sure that all of the students in Batavia were staying connected. He knew that there were kids who would not get support at home and that other kids just needed the outreach.
“It takes effort to stay socially connected with the students, but our priority is taking care of their social well-being,” the principal said.
Keeping that in mind, district administrators and staff made it a top priority to stay connected with all students.
With virtual meetings consisting of school administration, staff, parents and student government representatives were able to convene and brainstorm what to do, and how to adjust to this new normal.
What about graduation? The ever-popular Mr. Batavia Contest? Plus learning, support, transition, and the myriad other longstanding traditions that would likely need to be cancelled or significantly altered?
Everyone shifted gears to make the most of this very unusual school year, and followed the lead of Kesler who simply had a “let’s do it” attitude.
Administrators and staff developed a plan to stay connected with the kids through check-ins with things like trivia and baby photo contests.
They started a “2 for 2 senior spotlight” video series where a pair of students talks with Kesler for two minutes. They discuss their plans for next year, a fun anecdote from their high school years, and a teacher who has had a significant impact on them. It gives every graduating senior a chance to shine while highlighting this special milestone in their lives.
Parents went in a slightly different direction...
One mother desperately wanted to ease her child’s pain and disappointment, another wanted to congratulate her child herself for being an amazing kid and student, while another just wanted to do the right thing!
The parents of Batavia High School seniors came together and started to plan activities that would make this unusual year memorable in not so typical ways.
Kristen Fix and Lori Reinhart, both parents of seniors at BHS, took on the task of ensuring that every senior had a celebratory graduation sign in their front yard. The project was completed easily when donations came pouring in from people “who just wanted to help,” Fix said.
Local company “Vinyl Sticks” took up the challenge and quickly created signs to meet the demand, while other parents and students jumped in to help wherever they could.
Collectively signs were placed in the yards of 166 BHS graduating seniors. The group also placed congratulatory signs in the yards of more than 100 local residents who simply wanted to show the kids that they are proud of their accomplishment.
Fix noted that this has been a great project for the kids.
“At first we wanted it to be a surprise, but we realized that this pandemic has had a really negative impact on many of the kids emotionally," Fix said. "We found that it was a great way to get them involved.
"They really miss being busy, and this happened so abruptly, so they weren’t prepared for it. This has been an incredible community effort and we have all reaped the benefit!”
Another parent-initiated project was brought to the kids through the efforts of BHS moms Daisy Cervantes and Amy Mott. They set out to lighten the heartache for their daughters and the other 2020 graduates by creating the “Adopt a Batavia Senior 2020” Facebook Page.
This provided the vehicle they needed for local residents to adopt a 2020 graduating senior and shower them with whatever type of attention they chose. There was an amazing outpouring and many students were adopted multiple times.
“We cannot thank the community enough for the incredible outpouring we have received," Mott said.
The Facebook Page has been used to spread word about the community signs, conduct contests with donations from local businesses, display community support and highlight individual seniors.
Mott said that with many contributions from local businesses “we are working on some other extra special things to finish this out. We just hope that their lives get back to normal soon…and that all of this is inspiration for them to pay it forward in the future.”