Part of the Virtual Culture and Climate Series – Spring 2020

Ideas contributed by the Jostens Renaissance educator community and shared in a Facebook Live presentation on May 1, 2020.

It’s National Principal’s Day! Send a note or post of thanks to your principal today, or another principal in your district if you’re a principal yourself.

Special Guest – Dr. Steve Woolf

Superintendent, Woodland Park School District in Colorado

You’ve been in education a long time. How does this spring rank in terms of crazy things?

We’re building the plane in the air, but it’s flying. We have so many talented people working hard to make this work for the kids. There’s a lot of stress for sure – I got a message from a parent that we should take computers away from kids. Parents are afraid. But we’re learning a lot. We’re making some mistakes, but learning a lot of great things that will be changed for good.

 There are going to be parents afraid to send their kids back to school, and we need to find another way to offer them an option. When we open back up, things may be different. We may have half the kids one day, half the next. We may be asked to do social distancing in the classroom – good luck with that.

In terms of equity, some of your kids don’t have access to WIFI or both parents at home. How are you ensuring all students have opportunities to learn?

Chromebooks made it a lot more affordable to be 1:1 so that helps a lot, but connectivity is the challenge here. In Colorado Springs people can’t afford it, but up here there’s more affluence so the problem is access to a signal. We’ve put out hotspots here at different locations, and also food pickup locations. We serve about a fifth of our student body with meals every day. 20% of them need to go to hot spots occasionally. We have a big geographical area, and some families are 20 miles from the high school.

We’ve been having a conversation about measuring social and emotional health. What does that entail?

Our world has changed so much. With technology we can have the connectivity and the digital world is real to our kids, but it’s not the same. We need to pay attention – for example, the referrals to social services for abuse are way down. All the mandatory reporters don’t have the physical connections with kids now, so it’s gotten hard to see problems. When we’re together, we can read kids when they come in. We have a survey we give them, we can read how much danger they’re in of harming themselves and otherwise. I have an assistant superintendent assigned to social and emotional health. We wrote big grants, and are loading up on counselors and social workers. Our staffulty has a group to tie into – a staffulty member has a 1:1 every week with every kid. But it’s easier to pretend everything’s OK online. We had over 100 serious authentic referrals about self-harm. They’re coming out of the woodwork now because we’ve built those relationships. We’ve been able to address them. We trained everyone in the school to be able to spot and identify those issues, and plan to step that up so everyone can help our kids work through these times. It’s really hard – people talk about building resiliency in kids, and it comes down to blood, sweat and tears. There’s a fine line, creating resilient kids without pushing them over the edge.

You talk a lot about relationships and how important they are. You’ve shared a story before about a teacher who had a big impact on you – can you tell us about her.

4th grade was tough, I had a teacher that didn’t get relationships. She was hardcore, having us work at our own pace so I was behind in math. She said no recess until you catch up, but all I caught up on was burping. That wasn’t working, so she tried humiliation – go up to the board and demonstrate. It was awful.

Somehow I did move up to 5th grade, and into Mrs. Haslouer’s class (now Mrs. Bevilacqua). She believed in the R’s of Renaissance – respect, reward, reinforce, and recognize. She had a box of rubber spiders and bats and candy bars, and you could pick something out when you did a good thing. It wasn’t about the reward, it was about walking up to get something in front of the class and her. She told us she loved us, and she did love us – we knew it. It’s “I will do whatever it takes to help you be better.” We would have run through a brick wall for her. It’s all about the relationship. She caught me up, and I’ve been able to share about her. One time at the Jostens Renaissance National Conference I told the story at a closing session and they brought her up to the stage. There wasn’t a dry eye in the house. To this day I have a relationship with her.

Of my 3500 friends on Facebook, 2000 of them are students. We usually don’t get to see the finished product. We’re building people, and sometimes it takes 20 years to know how it went.

What are you planning to do for the Class of 2020 and graduation?

We are about 2000 feet up from Colorado Springs, so we heard a lot about that graduation at the Air Force Academy, where the cadets sat 6’ apart, with only big generals present, and no parents. People said they want us to do that, but these are cadets who have been quarantined, and if they don’t social distance they lose rank. I love our 17-year-olds, and they’ll do everything I ask – while I’m watching. But we need to make choices that fit our culture and our kids.

 I saw a good idea we’re considering: each student can have 2 parents come, and they sit 6’ apart from other families on the football field. They have to sign waivers not to hug. They go up to the stage, take a picture and be done, it’s a quick service. We would love to do that but would have to wait until June.

 We’re going to have a drive through thing with music, pictures, jumping out of the car, and professional camera crews. It starts with a 2-mile parade, the whole town cheers them on, they go through balloon arches, people jump out and celebrate them, they get in the car and go home. We’ll have speeches online, pictures in grad gowns with a mask on, because that’s what this year is – it’s different. We want to celebrate the best we can.

 Next week is national educator week, so we went to local businesses, spent $25 per teacher and everyone in the school on certificates. We’re mailing them today for next week with a letter, thanking them for what they do, and encouraging spending locally to support the community.

Virtual Commencement Center

Two weeks ago we talked about the Virtual Commencement Center, free to all schools

Virtual Commencement Center – enter the code provided by your local Jostens rep.

Virtual Commencement Flipbook

If you’re still considering a virtual ceremony, or virtual aspects to a ceremony, remember that Jostens has these webinars you can attend. What does a virtual ceremony look like, and what are the options to execute? The webinar will walk you through commencement speeches, all the things to consider, and other resources. There’s one this afternoon, and Monday, Wednesday and Friday of next week. Reach out to your Jostens rep to join, and if you’re not sure who that is, go to and enter your school, city and state to find out. All this comes from Jostens at no cost.

Graduation Ceremony Ideas

The Harrison County School District in Mississippi has rented out the Mississippi Coast Coliseum with a seating capacity of 11,500. Each school in the district will have the arena on a specified date and time slot. Each graduate for that school will be given four tickets for family members/spectators. Spectators will be assigned seats a minimum of six feet apart in all directions and the graduates will be spaced six feet apart as well. They will hold a traditional graduation ceremony otherwise. For any students who don’t feel comfortable in that setting, private ceremonies will be held on their school’s campus where they will have an appointment to walk across the stage and get their pictures taken in their cap and gown.

D’Iberville High School in that same district created a 3-part Social Distancing Senior Celebration. First is a school parade to pick up Class of 2020 shirts and yard signs. Then they designated one day for senior athletes parade through town. Finally, there will be a whole class parade through the community on the scheduled “last day” of school.

Lewisville ISD in Texas, from Jostens rep Justin Ray: All five LSD high schools will hold graduation at Texas Motor Speedway at their original May graduation dates and times. The ceremony will be projected on a 12-story video board to ensure every moment can be seen by the parents in their parked cars on the infield of the speedway.

Senior Celebration Ideas

Senior Sunset on Campus – This class would have been the first graduating class on campus. They’ll still be the first, and wanted to make it special. On the morning of the first day of school, they watched the sun rise on their year. On the last day, they planned to get together to watch the sun set. The school lit the lights on the athletic field and they sat on cars and watched together. A student made a TikTok video that captures the moment.

#CapAndGownChallenge – In a district in Arizona, seniors were challenged to do something to help their community in their cap and gown and snap a picture and post using that hashtag. (See photo above)

Senior Decision Week Activities at Greenbrier High School in Tennessee – Seniors include pics of themselves with something representing their plans for after high school, and will be releasing a series of videos next week highlighting those actions. This is continuing a normal tradition that has been done on campus.

One school held a senior parade through campus, where a local radio station designed a playlist and had teachers sharing messages on the radio to their kids. They put the lights on and 2020 on the scoreboard, had signs around campus, administrators lined the path, and fire trucks met them at the end.

Some are uncomfortable with all the emotion being brought into this. The thing is, the emotion is there. We need to give our kids an outlet and let them know we love them. It’s an emotional time for everyone, and we need to honor that. We need outlets for our educators too. I still love them and feel their pain, even though they’re not my kids.

Signs and Banners

Rio Vista High School in California got a long banner of enlarged Class of 2020 Senior pictures on the fence surrounding their campus.

Kingman Academy in Arizona – Eric Lillis, Assistant Superintendent, shared that their seniors all received a yard sign saying “We are the class of 2020” (see photo above)

Loveland Walk of Honor – The Loveland Chamber of Commerce is raising funds to celebrate their high school seniors with public banners listing their names in a lakeside “Walk of Honor.”

Jostens has yard signs and boulevard banners for seniors – Just reach out to your Jostens rep. They can be customized or the same for everyone.

Senior Athletes

Chenille Patches – These are available for all spring athletes, including seniors, in the outline of every state. They say “Spring sports athlete – we will never forget 2020.” Remember that spring athletes from all gradebands lost their season. Letter jackets are making a big comeback – one school offers a letter for Leadership. Reach out to your Jostens rep for ordering details.

Empire High School in Arizona hung pictures of senior athletes on the field fence, including managers and water boys and girls. Everyone involved with the team is being honored.

Guest Interview and Musical Performance

Senior Student David Gomez from Chisholm Trail High School in Texas

This experience has been a huge change for me. I never liked computers and now it’s my only option. But I’m coping all right. As far as next year, I got a job but will go to a trade school while I do an apprenticeship for the next four years. I’m a member of Carla and Jared Hardy’s choir classes. I’ll be singing “You Are the Reason” by Calum Scott. It reminds me of my choir and band friends I miss so much – this is for them. My heart also goes out to all the teachers, working so hard. Ms. And Mr. Hardy, I love you and miss you, and can’t wait to see you again.

Next Week: Motivation Monday – 11:00 CST, Monday, May 4.

Send your suggestions for recognizing seniors or future topics to [email protected] or [email protected].


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