As Chequamegon Bay school districts make plans to extend distance learning through summer school, seniors are lamenting the loss of their final days of camaraderie with longtime classmates and the spring sports season.
Gov. Tony Evers extended his stay-home mandate to fight the spread of COVID-19 until May 26 and ended the academic year for state schools, leaving seniors without the grand finale of awards, proms, graduation ceremonies and the chance to bid good-bye to friends as they embark on a new phase of life.
The conclusion to his senior year feels surreal to Washburn's Charles Motiff, who is keenly missing friends and athletics as the year winds down.
"It's definitely weird not seeing friends every day," he said.
Plus, the 17-year-old track-and-field athlete's goals to return to WIAA State competition as a sprinter and jumper have been dashed as the season never even left the starting blocks.
His classmate, 18-year-old Nora Doman, runs track as well, but just to have fun while staying in shape with friends. While she wasn't
upset about losing the season, Doman misses her friends and teachers, who are doing their best to keep education on track remotely, she said. And the absence of milestones marking the end of high school, such as the senior prom, is leaving a void in her life.
"It's hard to realize it's all coming to an end faster than I would have hoped," Doman said.
Pomp and circumstance
While seniors try to adjust their end-of-school expectations, faculty and administrators at Ashland, Washburn and Bayfield schools are striving to ensure the students still enjoy a quality graduation experience, accolades for their athletic careers and recognition of their talents and contributions.
Ashland has committed itself to holding a commencement ceremony for seniors, Superintendent Erik Olson said, although it will have to be held after June 30.
"We really want to give the graduates and their families the walk across that stage," he said.
Nevertheless, the high school principal and a team of educators are working on contingency plans if a ceremony isn't possible. They will ask students for input if it's necessary to take another route, Olson said.
Washburn and Bayfield schools don't have concrete yet to honor their graduates, but Washburn Superintendent Tom Wiatr and Bayfield Superintendent Jeff Gordon said principals, counselors and staff were planning alternatives to the ceremonial delivery of diplomas.
Gordon also said it's possible Bayfield will hold ceremonies later in the year.
"The consensus is we want to do something for the kids," Gordon said.
Before schools can think about sending off their graduates in some semblance of style, teachers must give students the best possible home education via remote learning.
Washburn had multiple education plans in place whether the students returned tomorrow or never came back to the building at all for the completion of the school year. It was actually nice to finally get an answer to the question when Evers gave the order.
"That brought us closure," Waitr said.
Administrators are working with teachers to help them complete the year's curriculum, and Wiatr is confident they'll succeed. Washburn will grade students as usual, but Bayfield moved to a pass/fail system to end the year. Ashland will not fail students, but instead give them an "in-progress" notation.
While Washburn had been prepared for remote learning — all of its students from kindergarten on up already have devices — Bayfield had to play catch-up and is in the process of helping staff, parents and students conquer online education formats.
Teams of teachers working behind the scenes in Ashland are identifying how best to serve students and families, and develop a system to reach kids remotely. Olson praised faculty for contacting students just to let them know teachers were keeping them in mind and cared.
For students who don't have Internet, Ashland, Washburn and Bayfield continue to distribute paper homework.
Most parents in the Bayfield school district have Internet access, Gordon said, and the school is reaching out to parents who are interested to discuss setting up hotspots.
While Wiatr said learning at home with paper assignments is not the same as virtual learning, he lauded families and students for being resilient and making accommodations. But the district will continue to examine how remote learning is progressing and shore up critical elements for the remainder of the year.
Plans for the end of the school year must remain fluid as districts gather information from the state Department of Public Instruction and Evers, and the districts are setting course for summer school as best they can.
Summertime classes would have to be delivered remotely through June 30 as Evers' orders now stand. Unless the school closure order is extended, Ashland could start in-building instruction beginning in July, Olson said.
Washburn is planning virtual academic classes, a "jump-start" class for kids to get ahead going into the fall, and some just-for-fun activities, Wiatr said.
Bayfield will hold virtual instruction but also may try to get summer school classes in-house starting mid-August, Gordon said. The district might ask the state for a waiver to start school earlier to assess students academically, help them transition back to the classroom environment and identify any educational deficits.
The schools hope to extend their meal programs over the summer, but that depends on receiving the OK from the state Department of Public Instruction.
Bayfield will continue to provide breakfast and dinners seven days a week through the end of the school year and rely on Red Cliff to provide the lunches while the school board discusses applying for the DPI waiver, Gordon said.
Ashland and Washburn likewise will be perusing DPI guidelines on summer meal programs.
No matter how well the end of the school year plays out, it will still generate bittersweet memories for the graduating class of 2020.
Not being a huge fan of ceremonies, Motiff isn't disappointed to miss the pomp and circumstance of graduation, but he knows many of his friends eagerly anticipated their moment on the stage. And while he also didn't plan to throw a graduation party, he had looked forward to making the rounds at other grads' celebrations.
"I was excited to go to my friends' for last hoorays," he said.