Towanda, Athens bringing back some normalcy to graduations

Towanda High School Class of 2019 graduates are pictured while turning their tassels. Class of 2020 graduates will now be able to graduate on the field as well after the district updated plans with Bradford County transitioning to the green phase of the state’s COVID-19 reopening plan on Friday.

The Towanda and Athens area school districts jointly announced changes in their graduation ceremonies Wednesday that will allow some spectators in each of their stadiums’ bleachers and make the ceremonies feel more normal for students.

Under the yellow phase of Pennsylvania’s COVID-19 reopening plan, the Towanda High School was planning for a drive-in style graduation in the school’s lower parking lot next to the tennis courts, which included vehicles with only students and immediate family members inside. Athens, which was utilizing its Alumni Stadium, had a plan for students in groups of 25 to make their walk while families stayed in their cars.

With Bradford County to transition to the less restrictive green phase of reopening Friday, both school districts will be filling their fields with senior class members and allowing some spectators in the stands.

“Once we get a little more clear guidance, then we’ll understand how attendees and visitors will be a part of that as well,” said Athens Superintendent Craig Stage.

According to Athens High School Principal Corey Mosher, that guidance is expected to be handed down today.

Preliminarily, officials in both districts are encouraging the use of masks for those in attendance, will implement social distancing for families and students, and will allow an estimated two to six family members per graduate to attend. Livestreaming, and potentially radio broadcasts, will also be available for those who are unable to attend.

Being able to have graduation inside the Endless Mountains Sports Complex has always been a goal for Towanda, according to Towanda Superintendent Dennis Peachey.

“It’s a combination of wanting to honor our graduates who have sacrificed so much this spring, but at the same time try to do things correctly and in line with the way things have to be done,” he said.

“We’re really just very pleased to be able to do this because our graduates have already suffered so much this spring with all of the other celebrations that they’ve not been able to experience,” added Towanda High School Principal Rebecca Stanfield. “We’re just very pleased that we’ve been able to pull this together at this date and we’re able to allow them to celebrate together on our field where they should be graduating.”

Stage said being able to honor graduates in a deserving way was one of the biggest challenges that school districts faced during this time of change. With these updated graduation plans, Stage said they are able to do that while keeping the commencement as safe as possible.

“I know our students are extremely excited,” Mosher said. “We’ve had several meetings with our class officers. In fact, I had just met with them this morning, and the first question out of their mouths, almost simultaneously, was, ‘What are we doing for graduation?’ So I did share with them that we would be graduating on the field and their smiles were very large and they were very happy and excited about that.”

Towanda will graduate at 6 p.m. on June 2, while Athens will graduate at 1 p.m. on June 6. Rain dates for each school district are scheduled for the following day.

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