Graduating students are virtually embraced by community adoptions

SOUTHWEST MICHIGAN — As spring arrives, students in their senior year of school look forward to attending their school’s prom, celebrating their academic and sports achievements through their high school career, and planning their graduation parties.

As COVID-19 arrived in Michigan, it brought with it a stark change in those plans. With schools closed through the rest of the scheduled 2019 – 2020 school year, families are finding alternative ways to celebrate their graduating seniors.

Area high schools, including Buchanan High School, Brandywine High School, Niles High School and Edwardsburg High School, all have had representatives take on the task of celebrating their graduating classes. Traditional commencement ceremonies are up in the air at this point, though Edwardsburg superintendent Jim Knoll said the  district will either host graduation on May 31 or June 28, and other district leaders have said they will make every effort to host some form of celebration. Each school has created a Facebook group for “adopting” their senior students.

The “adoption” process begins when the senior students’ photos are posted in their school’s designated Facebook group, with a short bio about their interests, achievements and aspirations. A community member within the group then “adopts” the senior by commenting or messaging the parents of the student.

In the “Adopt a Buchanan High School 2020 Senior” Facebook group, group administrator Katie Shelton explained what it means for those “adopting” these students.

“I encourage you to reach out to the parents of your adopted senior and ask for suggestions,” Shelton’s post stated. “There is no expectation for the number of times you interact with your child. That is entirely up to you.”

The post continues that the only expectation is that the senior is “showered” with kindness as they are celebrated. Suggestions for gifts include letters, arts and craft supplies, books, gift cards, and even high school memorabilia for the graduating year.

“While it has been a tremendous undertaking, it has been well worth it,” Shelton said. “Pictures of the smiles on the kids’ faces when they receive their gifts is priceless.”

For Lynn Mickiewicz, an administrator for the Brandywine High School Facebook group, “‘Adopt’ a 2020 Bobcat Senior,” a friend showed her the celebration concept.

“She also formed a ‘Niles adopt a senior’ site and encouraged me to do the same,” Mickiewicz said. “Everyone is so heartbroken that our seniors are missing out. We just want to make them feel special and show them the community loves and supports them.”

Mickiewicz’s son is in the 2020 class at Brandywine High.

“I think my son, Ty, is handling it better than I am,” she said. He keeps busy with his schoolwork, communicating with teachers, playing video games and keeping in touch with friends. Missing his senior year season of baseball has been the most difficult part, according to Mickiewicz.

For Angie Wagley, administrator of the Facebook group, “‘Adopt’ a Niles High School 2020 Senior,” the community response was immediate.

“We had 100 seniors post their bios and photos in 48 hours, and they are all adopted,” Wagley said. “I have people on a waiting list ready to adopt and spoil these kids as soon as they post. We are working hard to get everyone to post so we can get everyone adopted.”

Wagley’s son will be a part of the seniors missing out on the traditional celebrations.

“Mrs. [Molly] Brawley at Niles High School has been diligent about finding ways to not let these kids miss out on the important milestones they have worked so hard to achieve,” Wagley said of the school’s principal. “Things like the ‘senior door decorating’ and ‘adopting a senior’ have brought joy to these kids in a time of disappointment in what they have lost.”

Schools are working with the parents running the groups to ensure that each student has the chance to be “adopted” and celebrated by a community member.

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