An elementary school in Palatka celebrated its fifth-graders finishing the school year this week while still practicing social distancing.
Kelley Smith Elementary School hosted a drive-thru graduation ceremony Wednesday evening, a week after the school’s in-person graduation was originally supposed to occur.
“We just wanted to provide an opportunity for families and our students to be able to close out their experience here at the school and give them the opportunity to celebrate this transition in their lives,” Assistant Principal Cathy Oyster said.
Several of the school’s teachers attended the ceremony while wearing masks and following the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s guidelines. They were joined by seniors from Palatka High School and Q.I. Roberts Junior-Senior High School, who cheered on the fifth-grade students.
According to Oyster, Kelley Smith has about 100 fifth-graders. She said she was happy to see so many students attend their unconventional graduation ceremony.
Principal Mike Tucker agreed, saying the students deserved the same recognition as classes before them.
“They just worked so hard, and it’s been a very hard time,” Tucker said. “… We wanted to show them we care.”
Oyster said the school’s fifth-grade teachers did an excellent job of organizing the ceremony.
According to fifth-grade teacher Alexis Lewis, all the effort was worth it.
“We just wanted a very fun way to recognize this group of kids who have worked so hard all year,” Lewis said.
Parents and guardians drove students through the parking lot’s pick-up lane while fifth-graders’ names were read aloud by guidance counselor Cindy David. The students received their elementary school completion certificate at the end of the pick-up lane.
“I’ve had some of these kids since they were in Pre-K,” David said. “I’ll wait until I’m the car to start crying.”
Superintendent Rick Surrency said he is happy local elementary schools are finding innovative ways to celebrate their students. He said it is important to acknowledge students’ accomplishments throughout their time in school.
“I’m sorry that the last three months of their fifth-grade year turned out this way, but I think they will all be better students for it,” Surrency said. “I think they’re going to appreciate face-to-face interaction with their teachers more, and I think we all have learned a lot during this time.”
Despite Kelley Smith’s drive-thru graduation being a success, the Putnam County School District still plans to have more traditional high school graduation ceremonies.
Putnam County high school graduation ceremonies are scheduled to take place in August. Surrency said the events may be limited to just students if the coronavirus pandemic is still ongoing but a final decision has yet to be made.