New Brunswick students are preparing for a mix of traditional and modified events to mark the third high school graduation season of the pandemic.
Out of all the end-of-year activities, Grade 12 students Zoé Fournier and Jonathan Theriault of Moncton's École L'Odyssée are most looking forward to their graduation ceremony, which has been planned for the local Wesleyan Church to make more room for everyone.
"Being able to celebrate all the accomplishments alongside the rest of the graduating class has always been something I have wanted to do, and now I get to do it," said Fournier, whose school is in the Francophone South School District.
Theriault said he was happy there would be room for plenty of guests.
"Just so I can celebrate all of our accomplishments alongside family and friends who've been there for me since the start," he said.
Meanwhile, fellow student Mamadou Ba is most looking forward to the prom.
"I get to see everyone all dressed up in public and spend time with my friends," Ba said.
In recent years, only mini-proms have been organized within small groups of friends. This year, a prom for the entire grad class has been organized by a parent committee with a few student representatives, said Fournier, and is taking place at another large venue, the Moncton Coliseum.
Meanwhile, a few schools in the Anglophone South district are also having proms organized by families, said district spokesperson Jessica Hanlon.
And despite the lifting of pandemic rules by the province, some schools have opted to hold grad ceremonies outdoors again, said district superintendent Zoë Watson.
A lot of positive feedback was received about that format in 2020 and 2021, she said.
Smaller groups, more guests
Some schools are also choosing to break their outdoor ceremonies down into smaller student groups, she added, mainly because of parking issues and the size of the class.
But unlike in the past couple of years, graduates will be allowed more guests and more freedom of movement, Watson said.
"You may remember we had to be very strict — that it had to be one car and … one person getting out to take the pictures.
"We can open that up a bit and the schools will be in touch with the families around what the process is for their school."
After consultation with students and parents, some schools in the Anglophone South district have chosen to return to indoor ceremonies, said Watson.
These include Sussex High, which will have its ceremony at the 8th Hussars Sports Centre, St. Malachy's High School in Saint John, whose graduation will be at the Imperial Theatre, and St. Stephen's, which will be held in the school.
There are 14 graduating classes in the district, said Watson, ranging in size from about a dozen students to more than 200. Most of their grad ceremonies are planned for June 22 and 23.
In the Anglophone East district, most schools are moving back to traditional grad ceremonies, said spokesperson Stephanie Patterson. And traditional proms are also planned.
Unique, fun and unforgettable
However, a few schools are sticking with adapted grad ceremonies "for various reasons."
"The drive-in theatre ceremonies proved to be a unique, fun and memorable format for graduates, staff and families," said Patterson.
Riverview High School enjoyed the longer ceremony, she said, with each graduate attending with their family and support system "for a more intimate celebration of their accomplishments, where each student could receive personal attention and accolades."
The district's eight graduating classes will have their ceremonies spread out from June 22 to June 27.
In the Anglophone West district, "some schools have gone back to pre-COVID, in-person ceremonies," said spokesperson Jennifer Read.
"Some are limiting the number of guests and using smaller venues. Others have opted for a hybrid of traditional elements mixed with new ones, like 'walk-throughs' that include stops at various stations for photos and more."
"As far as school activities, many regular events are happening again," Read said, "including school trips, assemblies, track and field meets and end-of-the-year celebrations."
The district plans to celebrate its second annual student appreciation day Wednesday, she said, in recognition of "resiliency and adaptability throughout another challenging year."
Watson said she's happy that more events can take place such as concerts, assemblies and class trips.
She recalled being in St. Stephen a couple of weeks ago, where a Grade 1 student told her how excited she was to be attending her first assembly.
Student absences affect class trips
About 400 end-of-year class trips have been planned, she said, largely at the last minute, because as recently as April, COVID case counts and student absences were too high to consider it.
Back in March, Anglophone South had student absence rates of about 12 per cent in elementary school, 18 per cent in middle school and 31 per cent in high school.
The Education and Early Childhood Development Department said May absence data is not yet available.
In April, it reports that elementary and middle school students in Anglophone districts missed an average of 2.4 days. That was about a day more than they missed in April 2021, but down from 2.5 in March of this year.
High school students missed 2.8 days on average, up from 2.5 last year, but down from 3.0 in March.
The rates in the Francophone system have been lower.
In April, Kindergarten to Grade 8 students missed an average of 1.5 days — up from 1.1 in April 2021, but down from 1.7 in March.
Francophone high school students missed 1.8 days on average in April — up from 1.1 in April 2021, down from 1.8 in March.