Our school is a small rural prep to year 12 school in Australia. Once students reach year 12, (their final year of school), class numbers tend to be small. Once their VCE exams are finished, students together with their families and all school staff are invited to attend a graduation dinner in our local community hall. The dinner is catered for by the local hall committee. The two course meal comprises a mix of roast meats, tasty hot vegetables, salads, french bread and wonderful array of home cooked desserts including cheesecakes, pavlovas, brandy snaps and fruit salad.
It is always a highlight of the school year. Photo slideshows and memorabilia are shared with presentations made to all graduating students. One year, a possum found its way into the hall and stole the show, until it was finally directed out the door.
This year, however, was quite different. Get togethers of this nature were prevented under DET COVID-19 rules. The rules were changed a week before the graduation night would have taken place to allow staff and students to do something together but families were not allowed. Schools were encouraged to live stream them in via webconferencing. Our leadersthip team thought this was unfair especially as families supported, nurtured and cared for the students to a higher degree than normal due to the pandemic.
Instead, families were encouraged to cook their favourite special dinner with their student and enjoy it with school staff and the other families involved, using MS Teams. They were asked o dress up as they normally would have. Placemats were still produced featuring photos of our students. These were delivered to individual homes along with a parcel of items (which was not to be opened until the event). We were all keen to wish our students the best even if we could not share the same physical space.
It was so terribly disappointing to receive our invitations and realise this was how the event was to be. However, it turned out to be a very special event despite the virtuality of it. I came up to school to help our Assistant Principal who was co-ordinating the event, to help ensure that MS Teams worked well. A MS Presentation of photos of each student and accompanying music was the first item on the agenda. This was prepared by two o the year 12 students. The Team’s live meeting started at 6:55pm, with the formal welcome commencing at 7pm. Students introduced their family members and the webcameras were on so we could see them. There was surprise video message from a past popular science teacher who would have loved to attend in person and then, virtually. However our Education Dept has locked our Teams into just being able to meet with people within our own Victorian Education Dept.
7:15pm The main course was served up and enjoyed at home – web cameras off, microphones muted and people could temporarily leave the meeting if they wanted to. The recording was stopped and started up 34 mins later, once the main course was completed.
7:45pm A brief reflection on 2020 VCE and VCAL, School Captain speeches, Student Awards and presentations from the Principal and School Council President with some final words from our Assistant Principal.
8:15pm Desserts at home. Live meeting finished.
Despite the fact that it was virtual, there was a lot more input from the family members. We heard parents and guardians speak, some sharing how proud they were of their students. One family member gave the student their box. Inside it was their graduation certificate, a keyring (with their name on), chocolates and other items signifying some meaning for either COVID-19 or their time at school. As each student’s name was announced, we watched a family member give their certificate to their student.
Staff members also interacted and added some humour to the occasion. A virtual photo of the graduating students was taken in Teams. Did your school have a graduation? If so, what did it look like?
The day after our virtual dinner, our government announced that graduation ceremonies could take place with teachers, students and families (within COVID guidelines), but for us, it was too late.