School officials scramble to provide good graduation experience

Home News School officials scramble to provide good graduation experience

By Catharin Shepard • 

It’s not the graduation celebration anyone would have wanted, but the Hoke County High School and SandHoke Early College High School Class of 2020 will still get their diplomas.

North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper ordered last week for the state’s public schools, including Hoke County Schools, to stay closed for the rest of the school year due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Combined with mandatory social distancing and other safety measures still in place, traditional graduations aren’t possible for high school seniors this year.

Hoke County Schools are trying to work around that to still find ways to celebrate students’ hard work and accomplishments.

“We’re going to have a virtual graduation ceremony, and that’s going to be for both our Early College and for Hoke High,” Assistant Superintendent for Curriculum Dr. Shannon Register said.

SandHoke’s graduation will be May 22, and Hoke High’s will be June 9.

“They will have a video on Facebook to live stream where you will have the principal giving words of encouragement. From there you may have the students’ pictures scrolling across with some words, some music. We’ll have a designated time for everybody to go online,” Register said. The salutatorian and valedictorian will still have a chance to address their classmates.

Afterward, the schools will offer a drive-through pickup service so families can come get their graduate’s diploma. That will take place June 10-12 for Hoke High students.

SandHoke will combine its awards night with its virtual graduation ceremony. Hoke High will have a separate awards night, also done virtually over the internet, because of the large number of students receiving awards. The Hoke High online awards night is set for June 8.

The graduating class at Hoke High has about 426 students set to earn their diploma, Register said.

Meanwhile, Hoke High Principal Dr. Adell Baldwin is organizing an “adopt a senior” program to help show community support for the Class of 2020. The program does not cost families of seniors anything. Given the circumstances, the school wanted to find other ways for the students to feel special and appreciated.

Anyone interested in participating can contact the high school at (910) 875-2156.

The schools are also asking local businesses and churches in Hoke County post on their marquee or advertising board a special note for the graduating seniors. The notes should be posted May 21-June 13, to include both SandHoke and Hoke High graduating classes.


• Big changes to grading, end-of-year processes

The North Carolina Department of Public Instruction and State Board of Education have released more information about grading for the remainder of the school year.

Due to the COVID-19 crisis, the state board approved April 23 a temporary grading policy.

Elementary and middle school students won’t receive traditional grades for the year. Elementary school students will receive year-end feedback from teachers regarding learning from the full academic school year. Middle school students will receive feedback, and a grade of pass or withdraw for the final course grades for all courses.

“A student’s grade will be held harmless for learning after March 13, and a grade of pass will be assigned to any student who was meeting expectations and passing the course as of March 13 or who worked to improve to the point of passing after March 13 through remote learning,” according to the State Board of Education.

A “withdraw” for middle schoolers isn’t considered a failing grade, and doesn’t mean a student has to be held back or repeat the course.

High school students in grades 9-11 will have the option of choosing a traditional numeric grade for their spring semester courses, or choosing a grade of pass/withdraw. High school students in grades 9-11 can select whichever option is in their best interest.

“Students will be able to choose how each final course grade will appear on their transcript at the end of the semester after consulting with their teacher and school and also in consultation with their parent or guardian. For students who choose a grade of ‘pass’ or (withdraw), there will be no impact on their GPA, either for spring semester or yearlong courses,” according to the state Board of Education.

The schools don’t want to penalize students due to the circumstances, Hoke School officials said. Decisions about sending students on to the next grade level, or holding them back, are still in the hands of school principals and staff.

That doesn’t mean that students are off the hook for doing their virtual schoolwork for the rest of the year, Register added. Online learning is still ongoing.

“Just because they’re not physically in the building, learning still goes on. We want them to continue to do their work and strive to improve their grades,” Register said. “Remember, they still have to come to school in the fall.”

More information about the temporary grading system is available for families through their child’s school.

Besides grading, many of the other end-of-year processes for the school system have moved online. Interviews for students interested in starting at SandHoke Early College have largely become a virtual-only process, officials said. The same is true for students who are still working through scholarship applications and college interviews; colleges and universities are also using online-only meetings.

“The time has definitely required out-of-the box thinking,” Assistant Superintendent for Curriculum Dr. Debra Dowless said.

Kindergarten registrations and pre-kindergarten applications are among the things disrupted by the school closures. Parents can call the school to schedule an appointment to pick up the paperwork, Dowless said.

The school system is also continuing to conduct online interviews for hiring new teachers. That’s not necessarily something new, especially in the case of recruiting teachers from other states.

“We’re doing a lot of things virtual, Skype, and those are things that we have done in the past,” Register said.


• Summer events likely canceled

Hoke Schools usually host many events during the summer, including physical conditioning camps and team tryouts for student athletes, band camp for the Mighty Marching Bucks and academic sessions for youth who need extra help in reading.

All of those are likely canceled for summer 2020 at this point, school officials said, and they don’t have a lot of information yet on how they’ll make up for those lost programs.

Athletics Director Gary Brigman said he has concerns over starting sports again in the fall without those physical conditioning programs, which help protect student athletes against injuries during competitions.

Having a lot of the spring games canceled very suddenly due to the coronavirus was also hard on some of the senior athletes, who didn’t realize they had just played their last high school game, Brigman said. It also put a crimp in plans for spring scouting for r