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LHS graduation rescheduled for Thursday, June 11

The 2019-2020 school year is nearly over, and it's been a pretty weird one thanks to the pandemic. Students in the district have been doing their lessons at home for the past couple months, graduation and other rites of passage have been delayed, and school staffers have been doing as much of their work from home as they possibly can.

“It's actually been a rather busy and engaging time,” said Lowell Area Schools superintendent Greg Pratt. “We have a skeleton crew in the office, and I've maybe missed a day here and there, but not much. The amount of time I spend doing online meetings now is fairly extensive. It's a different way of doing work, and it can be difficult at times, but we're doing what we can to get through this.”

The new date for LHS graduation ceremony is June 11, and Pratt said the district made speculative decisions about other planned events.

“We sent a note to parents last week indicating that we have postponed our graduation commencement that was scheduled for May 21,” Pratt said. “We plan to reschedule it for June 11 - same time, same place. Obviously, we have to wait and see what social distancing restrictions there are. We could always push it back a little bit more if that's what we need to do. We have already engaged in a dialogue with students and student leadership regarding activities like graduation. We have a senior honors night that will be an online event now. I don't have the details yet, but we are trying to honor those seniors and make sure that they understand how much we appreciate their work and honor their successes. Hopefully we can get some of that done yet in the month of May if it's going to be online. Prom is another big event that happens, and we were able to work some avenues to make sure we could still have prom, which is currently scheduled for June 18. Of course, that is tentative, depending on what comes down from the health department and the governor's office.”

The district will now be able to continue feeding students daily through the end of next month.

“We serve about 600 meals daily,” Pratt said. “There are two pickup points and they do it twice a week, so you get three lunches and three breakfasts at a time. That would typically stop right at the end of the school year, which for us is usually around June 1, but this year, with what's going on, the federal department that oversees the food service industry is allowing that to be extended. The current plan is to continue that through the end of June.”

Pratt said that Lowell students working from home are still maintaining an attendance rate between 90 and 94 percent.

“We're engaging kids every day, so at home attendance has been really good,” Pratt said. “We've got great families and great kids to work with, so it's been very positive. We've got our distance learning plan up and running, which we've been working on with families for the past couple weeks. Students are now doing the vast majority of their work online. For kids that don't have online access, we have arranged to have paper packets sent to their homes. It's curriculum that we would have covered if they had been going to school, the same stuff. The materials are reviewed online and, using [various communication apps], they can interact with their teachers on a fairly regular basis. A lot of the work is independent, of course. It's not a full day worth of work, but a high school student might spend somewhere around three or four hours doing it.”

Pratt said that the most important advice he gives to parents of bored kids is to encourage reading, reading and reading.

“Parents want to make sure their students are ready to move forward to the next grade,” Pratt said. “So I get this question a lot: 'How can I make sure my student is not falling behind?' I remind parents that the number one thing that our students can do is take time to read, even reading with mom and dad or having mom and dad read the student a book. Older students have a wide variety of online materials, we have a number of online books through Lowell Area Schools, or they could go through the Kent District Library and get online books that way. And the Internet is just filled with material to read. Hopefully students are taking time each and every day to read, to practice that skill. It's a skill that impacts pretty much everything we do later in life.”

At this point, it has not yet been determined how this will effect next year's budget, but the effect will probably not be positive.

“We're starting to look at next year's budget, and there will be impacts due to the loss of revenue from the state,” Pratt said. “What that will look like, we're not sure yet, but we'll be keeping everyone posted on how that impacts our budget for the upcoming school year. We hope there's not, but we're expecting to see some sort of reduction of our current funding. It just depends on how much. There are so many unknowns.”

All of these decisions could change, and probably will, as the situation develops. Pratt said the district sincerely appreciates the patience and understanding of people in the community.

“I really appreciate our community,” Pratt said. “As difficult as this has been, I think our community has done a very nice job of handling the difficult situation, the changes in scheduling, the move to online learning, the events that have been postponed or changed, the loss of the athletic season. Our community has done a very good job of understanding. These are very unique circumstances, and I appreciate working with such a fine community.”

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