It’s both drive-in and drive-through for GHS grads

Enterprise file photo — Michael Koff

Fond farewell: Morgan Bell holds a sign to congratulate the Guilderland High School Class of 2020 while other teachers are decked out in school colors — red and white — at a drive-through parade on June 1. A video of the parade will be part of the graduation ceremony at the Jericho Drive-In on June 20.

GUILDERLAND — Amid the ever-shifting ground of pandemic restrictions, Guilderland High School has built its graduation plans.

“We wanted to do something to recognize this special moment in their lives,” the school’s principal, Michael Piscitelli, told The Enterprise on Monday.

The ceremony will come in two parts a week apart. On the evening of Saturday, June 20, graduates will gather, each in their family’s car, to watch a video ceremony on the big screen at the Jericho Drive-In in Glenmont.

Then, a week later, on June 27, there will be a drive-through stage walk, from 9 to 11 a.m., at the high school.

The drive-in video is prerecorded and Piscitelli was tight-lipped about some of its content, explaining, “We want some of it to be a surprise for the kids.”

He did reveal that a parent had taken video of the senior parade, held at the high school last week, where faculty lined the walkways to wave good-bye to their students who waved in return from their parents’ cars.

“I put that together with ‘Pomp and Circumstance,’” said Piscitelli.

The keynote address will be given by Amanda Bailly, a Guilderland graduate who is now an independent filmmaker, focusing on human rights in the Middle East. One of her films, “8 Borders 8 Days,” tracked the efforts of a single Syrian mother and her two children to travel to freedom in Europe.

Guilderland does not name a valedictorian or salutatorian so the student speakers at graduation are chosen from students who have submitted speeches.

Sophia Vieni will give the welcoming address and Colin Ingraham will give the graduate address.

Ryan Kapusinsky and Madeline Sulivan will introduce Bailly.

Piscitelli and Superintendent Marie Wiles have also recorded speeches that will be part of the drive-in video.

The Guilderland School Board last year had an extended discussion on whether or not the highest honor graduates should continue to be recognized by being seated on the stage during graduation exercises. It was determined they would instead sit with their classmates.

“Last year, we made the decision not to sit them on stage,” said Piscitelli. The point is now moot since all of the graduates will be sitting in their cars.

“Highest honor students will still get their medals,” said Piscitelli.

The name of each graduate will be read, just as it usually is, but, instead of ascending a stage, the graduates will each appear as a picture on the drive-in screen as their names are called.

They’ll get to walk across the stage a week later. That stage will be set up in front of the high school “It will be unique to have the high school in the background,” said Piscitelli, thinking of the pictures parents will be taking.

Each graduate will be handed a diploma and also pick up any awards.

The school earlier made a video of the awards ceremony for juniors and seniors, broadcast on June 10.

“Everything will be posted on GHS Media YouTube,” said Piscitelli. The video of the graduation ceremony, however, won’t be posted until Monday, June 22.

“We don’t want to take away the incentive of going and being together,” he said.

Asked about the reaction of students and parents to the graduation plans, Piscitelli said, “Some of them are taking it great … They understand it’s going to be a different experience.”

Piscitell also said, though, that he has “gotten emails from people that are critical.”

Some had wanted to delay the ceremony until August in hopes of having a traditional in-person ceremony.

“The future is unknown,” said Piscitelli. He wrote a letter to the parents of seniors at a time when only a maximum of 10 people could congregate.

“If we delayed till August, and something happens over the summer and we’re clamped down again, the kids would walk away with nothing,” Piscitelli said.

On Sunday, Governor Andrew Cuomo announced that outdoor graduation ceremonies could be held with up to 150 people in attendance.

Guilderland is graduating 379 students.

Piscitelli estimated that, to stay under the 150-person limit while still including friends and family for each graduate, the school would have to hold 10 or 12 different ceremonies.

So the original plans will hold.

“Everyone is trying to do something special,” said Piscitelli.

 

Grades

How to grade the graduates was also uncharted territory. “We went back and forth,” Piscitelli said, noting the “big discussion” included both administrators and teachers.

Guilderland ended up with a combination of “holistic grades” and traditional numerical grades, Piscitelli said.

Under the holistic system, he explained, students were given a grade of either DEL for demonstrated evidence of learning, or NEL for no evidence of learning.

The first two quarters of the school year were unaffected by the pandemic so students earned traditional numerical grades. The shutdown on March 13 came in the midst of the third quarter so holistic grades were used for the third and fourth quarters.

Students and their parents together will decide if the student wants to use the holistic grade as the final grade in a course, meaning the student gets credit but no numerical grade, or if the student wants to use numerical grades from the first two quarters for the final grade.

If a student has gotten an NEL, he or she then cannot use earlier numerical grades. “It’s a family decision,” said Piscitelli of which grade to use.

 

What’s ahead?

Piscitelli is well aware of the uncertain future faced by the soon-to-be graduates. 

His son is a sophomore at Siena College, which, like many colleges and universities, has not yet decided if classes will be held on campus in the fall.

“A lot of schools haven’t made a decision,” Piscitelli said. Some, he said, are formulating plans to perhaps start early so as to complete a semester before Thanksgiving.

“We’re in the same ballpark,” he said of the Guilderland schools.

Although the governor has announced that any summer school classes — except for necessary, in-person special-education instruction — will be online, no state directives for the fall have yet been issued.

“We have a re-entry task force at the district level,” said Piscitelli.

The task force has been meeting for a month in the midst of wrapping up the school year and dealing with next year’s budget, he said.

“It will get more detailed next month,” Piscitelli said.

More Guilderland News

  • Speaking about the white Minneapolis police officer who knelt on a cuffed George Floyd until he was dead, Altamont Police Todd Pucci was unequivocal, “That officer should go to jail; what he did was murder.”

  • The Guilderland committee for police reform assembled arrest records according to race and found that a much higher percentage of Blacks than there are Black residents in town were charged. This is largely due to arrests of out-of-town suspects made at Crossgates Mall, according to Police Chief Daniel McNally. The public is encouraged to read the draft and respond.

  • Altamont Treasurer Catherine Hasbrouck told the board of trustees last year that water-and-sewer rates had to be raised so the village could collect another $100,000 per year for general operations and maintenance.

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