Harper Woods schools provide unconventional proms, graduations amid COVID-19

By: Brendan Losinski | Advertiser Times | Published May 26, 2021

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HARPER WOODS — COVID-19 has forced school districts to get creative in many areas, and the Harper Woods School District and Chandler Park Academy are both determined to give their outgoing senior classes memorable send-offs.

Both institutions will have proms and graduation ceremonies, but both will be taking extra precautions and hosting them in unconventional ways to ensure the safety of those taking part.

“They deserve to have a prom and graduation,” said Harper Woods Superintendent Steven McGhee. “It’s been a grueling 18 years of school. In the midst of this challenge, we still have opportunities. It has to be outside, but it still will happen, so hopefully we will be moving forward. I want them to know that we say congratulations for meeting the rigors of the district.”

For the Class of 2020, prom had to be canceled and graduation took place at a drive-in ceremony with families sitting in individual cars. Harper Woods High School Principal Kristen Woods-Helms said this year will be different.

“Last year, graduation was at the Ford Wyoming Drive-In Theater,” she said. “Each family had a spot for their car and an assigned spot. It was socially distanced between cars and also outside.”

This year, both prom and graduation will take place. Both will be outdoors at the Riverside Marina in Detroit.

“Graduation will take place at the Riverside Marina on June 8 at 6 p.m.,” Woods-Helms said. “It will take place outside under a covered tent. The seating will be socially distanced. Students are not allowed to bring multiple guests as they traditionally are. We have 228 students in the class and each is allowed to bring two people. We’ll also be livestreaming it so other loved ones can watch from home. … Prom will be at the same venue on June 1 from 5 to 9 p.m.”

“We are going to have a prom,” added McGhee. “It won’t be like last year. We will be following the (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) guidelines. It will take place at the (Riverside Marina) outside. Nothing will be held inside. We want to keep it compliant with safety protocols.”

Both said it was hard for them to watch their students not get the traditions and ceremonies that many had looked forward to for several years, so they wanted to ensure that something was provided this year for those graduating.

“It is disheartening as an educator,” Woods-Helms remarked. “They look forward to their senior year their whole educational career, and now it has been interrupted. They are some of the most resilient individuals I have ever met. Many have experienced loss or had to suffer through COVID-19 or watch family members suffer. This has given them the ability to deal with adversity. … They have made it this far, so anything they choose to pursue moving forward, they will be ready to face it.”

Chandler Park Academy High School’s senior class of 2021 also will have its prom take place outdoors at Riverside Marina in Detroit, although it will be on May 27.

The event will only be open to Chandler Park Academy seniors who have tested negative for COVID-19 at the time of the event. Masks will be required to be worn, and food will be packaged to go and given out at the conclusion of the event.

The school’s graduation ceremony will take place on the grounds of Chandler Park Academy in Harper Woods at 10 a.m. Friday, June 4. It will also be an outdoor event, with graduates and families driving through individually and having the chance to walk up and receive their diplomas and take photos one at a time.

“As we close out a second unprecedented year for another senior class, I am tremendously proud of the Class of 2021 for pushing through and making this year a success, leaning on what they’ve learned throughout their four year journey as eagles,” Brian Ericson, the principal of Chandler Park Academy High School, said in an email. “I’m looking forward to seeing them walk into the next chapters of their lives, leading into the immersive education they learned while enrolled at CPA school district.”

Educators in both the Harper Woods School District and at Chandler Park Academy wanted to ensure that hosting these important events for their senior classes was a priority.

“Last year, when the pandemic initially came about, we considered different ways to celebrate the students,” said Woods-Helms. “We knew celebrating their educational achievements had to be the priority. There has been a difference in how COVID-19 has been addressed since its initial outbreak. There are vaccines now so we can do more this year. We continuously looked at what the numbers were and what the CDC was saying.”