SCHENECTADY — About two dozen Notre Dame-Bishop Gibbons teachers and staff on Wednesday fanned out across Schenectady to deliver a message to its 43 soon-to-be high school graduates: We celebrate your success.
With seniors dispersed at their homes, finishing out their final semester without the excitement of touchstone events like prom, school staff hand delivered yard signs to the school’s senior class.
Clad in a commencement gown, art teacher Krista Kubacka visited senior Audrey Vermilyea in the Eastern Avenue area of the city. She stuck the sign in the ground – “We love our Knights, 2020 Senior,” the sign reads – and knocked on the door, stepping back to provide space for the students.
“I know this isn’t how you wanted to spend your senior year,” Kubacka said to Audrey, whom she teachers in arts. Kubacka said it has been difficult not being able to provide real-time feedback to her students as they develop their art projects.
“It’s definitely an interesting experience,” Audrey responded.
Audrey said the school closure has presented a challenging situation but that she is trying to make the best of it. She hasn’t sorted out her plans for the fall yet but said she is looking forward to going to college.
“It’s been pretty rough, but I try my best to make it into a positive experience,” Audrey said of recent weeks. She said she has been trying to spend more time on hobbies like drawing and
Audrey said she stays in touch with friends and her teachers but that it’s not the same as heading into school each morning.
“I miss seeing everyone, every day,” she said.
Teachers and staff at Notre Dame-Bishop Gibbons have worked to recreate virtually the activities typically litter the spring calendar. The school recently hosted a virtual ceremony to recognize inductees into the National Honor Society. And teachers are working to maintain close connections with their students and show them how much the school cares for them.
Teachers who helped deliver the signs on Wednesday said they have been impressed by how quickly students transitioned to remote education. The teachers said they have to be mindful of the unique circumstances facing each student – some may have to care for siblings or have limited computer access – and that they are focused on continuing to develop the school community in positive ways.
“I’m learning about their ability to rise to all kinds of challenges,” said Adam Biggs, who teaches AP English Literature. “I’m learning about their adaptability and willingness to keep learning.”
Rich Harrigan, who teaches a social studies class for seniors, said he was on a Zoom call with his students last week shortly after Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced school buildings would remain closed for the rest of the school year. His students had heard the news, but they still wanted to hear it directly from their teacher.
“A lot of them wanted to hear it from me,” Harrigan said. “They just needed to hear from their teacher that it’s going to be ok.”
Harrigan lamented the lost events of his students, many of who he has taught since they entered sixth grade. But he said the students have demonstrated their resiliency, quickly adapting to remote education, and that staff are working to demonstrate their caring for their students in tangible ways.
“The Class of 2020 is on the verge of losing a lot of their social milestones,” Harrigan said. “We are trying to show seniors that although this looks different, this feels different, they are very important to us, and celebrating their graduation is very important to us.”
Kiante Jones, Notre Dame-Bishop Gibbons principal, said the Albany Diocese, which provided the signs for students across the region’s four Catholic high schools, is working on plans for a commencement ceremony of some kind this summer. He said even if the school can’t meet in person, staff is working to create ways to engage students as directly as possible.
“We are trying to keep that community spirit alive,” said Kiante Jones, Notre Dame-Bishop Gibbons principal. “There are still ways to come together as a community. We miss the kids, and they miss us.”
The teachers and staff met at the school Wednesday morning, loading up the signs and handing out assignments for who would visit what seniors. Before they departed, they shared in a prayer on behalf of their students, calling on God to support the seniors as they move into the next chapter of their lives.
“Give them courage, unbending faith, strong values and a generous heart,” Michael Kujan, who led the prayer, asked for the students.