Parents find way to honor graduates

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JOHNSTOWN — Parents in Gloversville and Johnstown this week surprised high school seniors across the Glove Cities school districts who are missing out while schools remain closed due to the coronavirus on quintessential moments most students look forward to and remember for years.

Across the country parents are searching for ways to recognize and lift the spirits of students at all grade levels facing the sudden closure of schools and the shift to remote learning.

Parents like Nicole Hollister of Johnstown and Sheri DeMagistris of Gloversville are especially concerned about making special moments for their graduating high school seniors as end of year events are cancelled, with questions looming over whether graduation ceremonies will take place this year.

“Right now, they’re still holding onto hope that school will reopen,” said Nicole Hollister. “Every kid waited for their senior year, all the special moments and exciting times. It’s devastating.”

“My kids are really hoping to return to school, even if it’s only for a couple weeks in June, just to see their teachers and everyone. And I’m hoping they will be able to have a graduation of some sort,” said Sheri DeMagistris. “It’s important for everyone.”

In the Greater Johnstown School District and the Gloversville Enlarged School District parents have formed their own Facebook groups to share ideas to support their children, taking cues from parent groups around the nation.

In recent weeks, local parents cooked up a scheme to surprise and publicly recognize their graduating seniors by decorating the front doors of their homes. Parents decorated doors with banners, balloons, streamers, photos, high school sports jerseys, graduation regalia, intended college paraphernalia and other items specific to their children.

“To try to keep our own senior’s spirits up from everything that they’re missing,” said Nicole Hollister.

Nicole Hollister decorated her front door with her daughter Abbey Hollister’s field hockey jersey, photos, her high school graduation cap and items for St. John Fisher College where she plans to attend school in the fall.

Sheri DeMagistris decorated her front door for her daughter Sidney DeMagistris with a graduation banner, balloons, logos for the sports her daughter played in high school and also an inflatable dragon for the State University of New York College at Cortland where Sidney DeMagistris will attend and play field hockey in the fall.

In Johnstown, the Parent Teacher Association also purchased one lawn sign to be distributed to the home of every senior in the district, with parents and relatives able to purchase additional signs if desired. And a group of Johnstown mothers made each senior a school spirited purple and gold face mask to be handed out in care packages with candy donated by parents when yard signs were delivered this week.

In Gloversville, the Class of 2020 advisors also had yard signs printed for each senior that were delivered this week to coincide with the surprise appearance of door decorations.

Abbey Hollister said she knew what was in the works as her mother helped coordinate the effort over the phone from their home that was full of supplies for care packages for students. The Johnstown High School senior was able to help select some items for their front door and her mother has continued adding items each day for an ongoing surprise.

“It really means a lot,” said Abbey Hollister. “I think it’s amazing our parents are doing everything they can to make us have good experiences and trying to make the best they can of what is happening now.”

Gloversville High School senior Sidney DeMagistris on the other hand was surprised when she woke up Monday morning to see an inflatable dragon on her front porch and her front door decorated when she stepped outside for further inspection.

“I thought it was really cool and it was nice,” said Sidney DeMagistris. “I saw a bunch of pictures around the country of people doing it and thought it was a cool idea, but I didn’t think they were doing it here.”

Both seniors said the gesture organized by parents was appreciated by students like themselves who miss school.

“It is nice to be home sometimes, but after a while it’s boring,” said Abbey Hollister. “It’s really hard, especially being in advanced classes, doing homework online not being able to communicate with teachers in class.”

“It’s not fun to be home all the time. I liked going to school and being able to see everyone and feel like I’m participating in school instead of watching videos of teachers,” agreed Sidney DeMagistris. “I always used to complain about going to school, but now I will never complain about it.”

When school across the state closed in March, Abbey Hollister said some of the moments students were most looking forward to were finally coming up. Now class trips and dances have been cancelled while informal events like senior skip day, a student barbecue and the senior prank seem unlikely to happen. Student athletes will also probably miss out on their final spring seasons, an even harder pill to swallow at Johnstown where students fundraised to save their activities amid district budget cuts.

“The last part of the year everything calms down and you’re doing the fun things, the stuff that counts and makes the most memories. Now you can’t really do much,” said Abbey Hollister.

“Everyone says, ‘oh it goes by so fast’ and it did and then it was cut short kind of suddenly,” said Sidney DeMagistris. “We’ve missed so much.”

Students are hoping that some cancelled events may ultimately be rescheduled to later in the year and are especially hoping that districts will hold graduations of some sort even if it means moving commencement ceremonies into the late summer.

“I’m hoping the principal and staff can work with us and save some things. If graduation can’t happen in June, then I hope they can postpone it until July or early August and do it then. I hope the school works with us and keeps thinking about us through everything,” said Abbey Hollister. “Graduation is a once in a lifetime thing and everyone does it. If you don’t have one, it’s going to be a huge thing you miss.”

In both Gloversville and Johnstown seniors are also discussing alternative options to organize their own senior proms or graduation celebrations later in the summer if the threat of the coronavirus has sufficiently eased, something students never dreamed they would have to consider.

“We’re still hoping to do that stuff. If we can’t we’re still hoping to have something ourselves to remember everything that we’ve done,” said Sidney DeMagistris.

Parents and administrators are also talking about alternative ways to honor graduating students possibly with a parade of vehicles through the city that will allow students to wear their caps and gowns while celebrating with the community from a safe distance or through drive-in graduation ceremonies.

Of course, Abbey Hollister and Sidney DeMagistris agreed they would like to have traditional high school graduations, but they both expressed gratitude for parents, teachers and district staff members who are doing their best to support students while making memorable moments.

“I think it’s great that they’re doing it, because it shows that they really do care about all of the students and trying to recognize everything that they’ve done for past 13 years in school and now finally about to graduate when we might not be able to,” said Sidney DeMagistris.

By Josh Bovee

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