LAC LA BICHE - Plamondon and Lac La Biche residents can expect to see the glowing faces of Grade 12 graduates dotted along their streets again this spring.
The confirmation that the graduation street banners would fly again this year came April 27 when the Lac Lac Biche County council unanimously voted in favour of sharing the cost of hanging banners along the streets of Plamondon and Beaver Hill Road. The municipality will provide $5,000 and cover the cost of banner installation, matching funds raised by the municipality’s high schools and graduation committees.
Starting June 15 banners will highlight the accomplishments of students from École Plamondon, Lac La Biche Outreach and J.A. Williams High School for one month. The banner project is something that began last year as schools across the region looked for alternate ways to celebrate their end of year activities during the COVID-19 pandemic. With similar — and perhaps enhanced — measures in place again this year, the project is hoped to offset the challenges created by the pandemic restrictions.
“The banners were an awesome idea. I'm appreciative that the County did it again and are partnering to give those kids banners,” says Elliott Bessey, the principal of the Lac La Biche Outreach High School.
“I'm sure there are some hanging up in [students’] rooms. It's a great keepsake.”
Of the schools contacted this week, only the Lac La Biche Outreach had a confirmed date for convocation events. Outreach will celebrate its grads on June 18. Ecole Plamondon officials have yet to set a date, and at Lac La Biche's J.A. Williams High School, a tentative date of June 23 has been suggested, but officials are still considering the suggestion and whether or not to spread the event over two days.
No matter what date, as the graduating class of 2021 prepare for another year with socially–distanced ceremonies, they have gleaned some best practices to make the most of their milestone during a global pandemic.
“Last year there was that whole air of not knowing... all the schools together made drive-by ceremonies at the drop of a hat. This year I know it's going to mean more, because we have time to plan,” says Bessey who is planning with staff a socially-distanced grad event personalized for each student.
According to the local principal, each student will have a time slot to take photos, give air hugs and celebrate with up to 10 people outdoors while receiving their graduation gifts bags. Despite the challenges, Bessey says the alternate grad plans offer some benefits too.
“People could be mad because there is no formal [graduation], but it gives a chance for schools to celebrate their kids on a more personal level than a formal showpiece.”
He says students, staff and families across the region will be making the best of the situation. And despite the restrictions, he says the municipal help will let schools do the best they can to honour their students.
“Beyond hiring an airplane and putting on a smoke show,” Bessey jokes, he feels the County has provided the right amount of support to give grads the memorable moments they deserve.
As it stands J.A. Williams High School staff will be rolling out a literal red carpet for their 110 graduating students, says school Principal Samear Abougouche.
“Capturing this moment may have its challenges right now, but forever people will remember this class of 2021. Especially the students who faced a great challenge will look back on those yearbooks. It wasn’t all negative, we learned a lot about ourselves and our community. There were definitely some silver linings,” said Abougouche. “We are so proud of our students. They are a very resilient bunch here and I think that will help them in the future.”
Plans for this year’s JAWS grad event are expected to once again include a short grad parade along Beaver Hill Road and personalized, scheduled red-carpet presentations in front of the school. Last year a large group photo was organized by the grad committee parents — but with coronavirus numbers on the rise and public health orders in effect that restrict gatherings, it is unlikely to happen this year.
Last year’s COVID-grad event at JAWS took place at the end of June.
In efforts to help reduce financial burdens for students’ families, J. A. Williams will be reducing graduation fees significantly this year.
The Lac La Biche Outreach High School has opted to cover all fees associated with graduation for their 12 graduates.
Ecole Plamondon was not able to respond before the initial publication of this article. Check www.lakelandtoday.ca for updates and more information