Helena Public Schools leaders were making the final preparations Friday morning for a weekend of graduation ceremonies that have been impacted by COVID-19 and the unpredictable spring weather.
Workers were setting up hundreds of chairs for the graduates on the field at Carroll College’s Nelson Stadium – each ten feet from the others for social distancing purposes.
On Friday afternoon, the district held smaller ceremonies – for the Project for Alternative Learning and for the Access to Success program. On Saturday morning, the full Helena High and Capital High graduating classes will have their ceremonies.
Everyone participating in each ceremony will be wearing masks. Each student will be able to have only two guests in attendance.
The district also had to move the Saturday ceremonies to earlier times, because strong thunderstorms are predicted to come into the Helena area in the afternoon. Helena High's graduation will now begin at 8 a.m., while Capital's will start at 11 a.m.
Superintendent Tyler Ream said it’s been a logistical challenge to put it all together. He estimated they have put in three or four times as much work as in a usual graduation season. However, he said it’s all worth it to recognize these students.
“There was a lot of things that were taken away from the senior class of 2020,” he said. “If we were able to, all along, be able to create some sort of setup where we could adhere to all of these safety precautions but still have a graduation – a graduation in person, a graduation where they have all of their peers with them and their parents and families potentially in the audience – that’s something that was really meaningful for us. So I think that’s part of the reason why we have worked so hard to get to this point, and regardless of what storms may come, we’re going to be resilient and get this done for our seniors.”
Ream said their partnership with Carroll College played a huge role in making these ceremonies possible. Because Nelson Stadium is also used for soccer, it has a larger field that provides more room for distancing.
Ream also thanked Lewis and Clark Public Health for their help in making sure the district’s graduation plan met all health guidelines.