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Estacada School District leaders will host an in-person graduation ceremony when it is safe to do so

COURTESY PHOTO: ESTACADA SCHOOL DISTRICT - This sign near Estacada High School honors the school's class of 2020.

During a recent evening at Buzz Randall Stadium in Estacada, lights shined brightly and the familiar sounds of "Pomp and Circumstance" filled the field.

Community members tuned in from an online livestream or watched nearby from their cars, honking to show their support for Estacada High School's class of 2020.

The "Be the Light" ceremony on Thursday, April 16, was one way that seniors at Estacada High School were honored during the COVID-19 pandemic, which has led to the closure of school buildings across the state.

Though the end of this academic year looks significantly different from typical ones, leaders in the Estacada School District want to ensure that high school seniors feel honored as the first 13 years of their academic career come to a culmination.

Along with finding creative ways to celebrate senior students during social distancing requirements amid the COVID-19 pandemic, Estacada School District leaders plan to host an in-person graduation ceremony for the class of 2020 when it is safe to do so.

"We'll follow public health guidelines and look at whenever it's healthy and safe, be that late summer or in the fall," said Estacada School District Communications Director Maggie Kelly, noting that the district had received much community feedback in favor of having an in-person celebration at a later date rather than a virtual event. "It's still important to mark that transition for our seniors."

In the interim, school district leaders plan to facilitate ways to honor senior students, particularly since the majority of Estacada High School's class of 2020 has completed their school year. Per guidance from the Oregon Department of Education, seniors who were passing their classes when schools closed in March will receive a passing grade for the term and credit toward a diploma.

Seniors who met ODE's requirements completed their final day of high school on April 16.

School counselors and teachers are working with 45 members of the senior class to create personal education plans to ensure they meet graduation requirements. These students have until Aug. 31 to complete enough credits to graduate.

Additionally, seniors in advanced placement or dual enrollment college courses are continuing their studies.

Though the majority of seniors finished last week there are still "a lot of opportunities and support for them," Kelly said, noting that college and career guidance are available, along with meals for all students 18 and younger.

"We're making sure that a large support network is still available. That support is more important than ever. It's a tricky time to be entering the adult world," Kelly added.

Students at all grade levels in Estacada began participating in virtual school days shortly prior to the statewide closure of school buildings. District leaders developed the program last year so learning could continue during inclement weather.

Each week, Estacada's virtual school attendance is typically around 90%.

Per ODE guidance, all class grades will be moved to a pass/fail system, but Estacada students can expect to see detailed feedback on assignments.

"Even with the pass/fail grading, we want students to have a good understanding of where they are," Kelly said.

Meanwhile, honoring this year's graduating class remains a significant focus in the Estacada School District.

"We want to let them know we haven't forgotten about them," Kelly said. "Their accomplishment still stands. They've accomplished something amazing."

Those who wish to watch a video of Estacada's "Be the Light" ceremony can do so here.

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