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Cumberland County

Midstate school districts turn to outdoor venues for high school proms

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There have always been great expectations that go with senior year in high school: the prom, special traditions, the lead-up and follow-through with life after graduation.

But the Class of 2021 follows the Class of 2020 in facing a unique challenge from COVID-19 — calling on them to step up, be responsible and take nothing for granted.

“I’ve been meeting with class officers the past couple months,” said Joel Hain, principal of Boiling Springs High School. “Their ultimate goal matches ours. We want an in-person graduation so they know if they don’t follow the protocols, and things get shut down, it could impact some of the other events tied to their senior year.

“We have great kids here at Boiling Springs,” Hain added. “We are confident that they will follow the directions and the guidelines we have set out.”

Confidence and pride in their graduates is a common theme among school administrators working the logistics of offering the senior class a prom night this year.

The prom season starts May 7 with the Boiling Springs High School prom. That will be followed a week later by proms scheduled for Big Spring and Carlisle students on May 15.

Cumberland Valley High School is planning a modified prom for May 22, while the Mechanicsburg Area Senior High School has scheduled a “prom-like” event for June 11 — a week after graduation.

All five school districts have turned to outdoor venues to maximize ventilation and to allow more space for seniors and their guests to socially distance.

As a rule, all prom attendees will be required to wear face masks at all times and will be subject to a temperature scan prior to entering the venue site.

Uncertain outcome

The outbreak of COVID-19 in mid-March 2020 forced school districts across Pennsylvania to close their doors and pivot abruptly from providing in-person classroom instruction to some form of remote instruction.

The timing of the outbreak so severely disrupted the planning of year-end events that most 2020 proms were canceled and most graduations were delayed and/or modified.

Officials from all five school districts surveyed for this story said they went through a period this year when a 2021 prom was a question mark.

“Certainly, there was some doubt,” said Dave Harris, principal of Mechanicsburg Area Senior High School. “But as winter turned to spring and the vaccine became more available and [case] numbers dropped, we could begin to plan for something for the students.”

By mid-March, the Mechanicsburg Class of 2021 was told that a “prom-like” event is being planned “with some traditional aspects and some newer ones,” Harris said.

As for Big Spring, the pivot point that made its prom closer to reality was the decision in March to return high school students to in-person instruction four days a week starting on April 12, Principal Bill August said. “We weighed a lot of factors. We want to try to get it as close as possible to a regular prom but still have the [COVID] protocols in place.

While conditions have improved, the pandemic is still out there demanding vigilance. “It requires everyone pitching in to do their part,” August said.

At Carlisle High School, Principal Michael Black said he has made frequent announcements to seniors in Group A and Group B of the hybrid instructional model. He recommends that prom-goers stay within their close circle of friends to minimize the intermingling of groups and that students make sure they are aware of the individuals around them in case contact tracing would become a necessity.

“It starts with reminding kids of the expectations,” said Colleen Friend, assistant superintendent of Carlisle Area School District. “It also goes back to making sure you have ample supervision at the event.”

“Our kids will definitely rise to the challenge,” Black said. “The seniors are really looking forward to the opportunity. They are looking for a chance to be together one last time.”

Email Joseph Cress at jcress@cumberlink.com.

"Our kids will definitely rise to the challenge. The seniors are really looking forward to the opportunity. They are looking for a chance to be together one last time."

— Carlisle High School Principal Michael Black

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