Grads to get a day in the sun before school districts turn to online futures

Lake Hamilton will hold an in-person graduation outside on Aug. 1, and then open an online virtual academy for some returning students later that month.

PEARCY, Ark. — School districts like Lake Hamilton in western Garland County are making some important decisions that typify how to approach education during a pandemic.

Lake Hamilton will hold an in-person graduation outside on Aug. 1, and then open an online virtual academy for some returning students later that month.

RELATED: Doctors suggest parents send kids back to school despite COVID-19 concerns

“We’re proud to be able to offer this to students and their families who needed this culminating experience,” said Shawn Higginbotham, the superintendent.

The senior send-off will take place on the Wolves’ football field, where social distancing markers are already in place.

“The graduates will be spaced on the field,” Higginbotham said. “They won’t be able to sit as a tight-knit group, but they’ll be spaced. We have all the spacing requirements. All the facial covering requirements.”

The Arkansas Dept. of Health signed off on the plans, but the ceremony needs to avoid rain and will probably go quickly since it’s expected to be hot. The state hasn’t signed off on an inside gathering. The North Little Rock School District called off their indoor graduation ceremonies this week, slated for the Barton Colosseum at the Arkansas State Fair grounds.

Lake Hamilton officials went ahead with their plans after surveying students and families. They, like districts across the state, have questionnaires in the mail and online figuring out how to blend in-class and at-home learning this year.

So far, reaction are mixed.

“Some [parents] are not ready to send their students back yet,” said Brian Bridges, the district spokesperson.

With that in mind, the district will establish a virtual academy. The fully online environment is open for registrations through July 10.

“Students in the virtual academy will follow our same curriculum as for students who are on-site,” said Higginbotham. “It will be Lake Hamilton teachers. They will interact on a regular basis with Lake Hamilton teachers.”

The virtual academy concept is not new. A handful exist in the state and a version of one launched last year in the Pulaski County Special School District as a way to homeschoolers back into the public school fold.

But shortly after announcing the plans, Lake Hamilton had to make clear, the virtual academy is just one option.

“Lake Hamilton is going to be offering on-site instruction, and we are looking forward to being able to welcome our students to campus,” said Bridges.

With evidence mounting that kids will be safe from the virus in school, educators are pushing to get as much in-person teaching as possible, while knowing the virus has been tricky so far.

“Students need that face-to-face for learning new skills,” said Higginbotham. “But, we’ll meet those challenges as we need to.”

RELATED: North Little Rock School District creates partnerships to help provide accessible learning for fall 2020

RELATED: LRSD ‘strongly recommends’ students wear masks when school returns this fall

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *