From graduation to summer camp, questions linger for Berkshire families

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When Gov. Charlie Baker announced on April 21 that schools and nonemergency child care programs are to remain closed until at least June 29, Ann Adams immediately thought of her granddaughter, Mahoganye Davis, and her fellow Pittsfield High School seniors.

"I feel so sad for all of them," Adams said.

Mahoganye, her oldest granddaughter, has struggled in school, but worked with her guidance counselors and teachers to shore up her effort to graduate this year.

"I think they should all be given credit for that," Adams said of Mahoganye and the supportive PHS staffers.

But despite all those efforts, the COVID-19 pandemic has ushered in a cloud of uncertainty over hopes for a graduation celebration next month.

Students across the state were sent home in late March amid efforts to control and mitigate the spread of the disease, which as of May 1 had taken the lives of a reported 3,716 people in the commonwealth, and infected more than 64,000.

The move left entire communities in the lurch to find solutions on the fly, including how to celebrate all the milestones that the end of a school year typically brings.

What to do for the Class of 2020 is among the most vexing questions for school administrators as hopes dim for a traditional commencement, with pomp and circumstance and crowds of grads and well wishers. Virtual and limited attendance alternatives are being considered by schools across the globe, but here in the Berkshires, few definitive decisions have yet been made.

"It's tragic, honestly," Davis told The Eagle during a phone interview on Friday. "I did more than I ever did before in school. Being a senior, I just wanted to help provide a better life for my family, helping my mom out and making sure she has everything that she needs and the little ones."

Davis has three younger siblings are ages 10 months, 3 and 14. She had been working after school, going to the U.S. Taekwondo studio on Dalton Avenue until the pandemic caused that to be shut down, too.

She is interested in studying either social work or criminal justice and plans to go the Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts to this fall. But whether campus will be up and running, and what operations will look like, is all still up in the air.

Learning she wouldn't be returning to PHS to finish classes with her friends this spring was a gut punch.

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"I was shocked, to be honest," she said. "I didn't expect [the pandemic] to go this long."

For Davis and her fellow classmates, no more PHS also means no senior class trips, no final games or plays — and no prom.

"I'm sad about it. I was extremely sad that I couldn't go back to school," she said. " I feel like they should try to make it work, but at the same time, the virus is still out there. It's hard."

Pittsfield schools Superintendent Jason "Jake" McCandless said he empathizes with families.

"My oldest is a college senior," he said. "He's getting a diploma in the mail."

Exploring options

In the meantime, students and administrators across the Berkshires are weighing their options, and finding ways to mark senior achievements.

In an April video message to his school community, Berkshire Arts and Technology Charter Public School Principal Sean Keogh said, "I'm also committed to ending this year strong and preserving as many of BART's traditions as possible. Teams of teachers are already discussing possibilities for graduation and end-of-year ceremony."

And BART staff continue to celebrate seniors each time they get a college acceptance notification.

Usually, newly accepted students get to ring a bell in the school's College Office. Now a sound file of a ringing bell is attached to each email heralding the good news. In the Southern Berkshire Regional School District, administrators and teachers are encouraging students to share "Senior Shout Out" videos and photos on social media to honor those who will be capping off their high school careers this spring, at least on paper.

Superintendent Beth Regulbuto wrote in an April 21 memo to families, "we will do our very best within the rules and our powers to honor our traditions and to provide senior experiences, most notably, graduation to the best of our ability — even if to do so the events happen in the summer months!"

Jenn Smith can be reached at jsmith@berkshireeagle.com, at @JennSmith_Ink on Twitter and 413-496-6239.


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