Coronavirus response | Out of doors commencement ceremonies may return at Monticello – Champaign/Urbana Information-Gazette

MONTICELLO — A return to an outdoor high school commencement cremony — at least for 2021 — is being considered in Monticello.

Last year’s ceremony was done inside at the middle school without a crowd due to COVID-19 restrictions, with small groups entering the gymnasium with immediate family to receive diplomas and have their photos taken.

High School Principal Adam Clapp anticipates restrictions still being in place this spring but hopes they are eased enough to allow more parents to watch the graduation ceremony.

“Right now, with gathering restrictions, outdoors may be the best opportunity to have more public at our graduation ceremony, so we’re looking at that option, as well as the Sievers Center and doing somewhat similar to what we did last year,” Clapp said. “It’s all going to hinge on what the public health department allows us to do.”

Clapp noted that under current restrictions, which limit groups to 50 but allow for additional groups of that size if they are at least 30 feet apart, all graduates could be on the football field with parents in the stands.

“I’m confident we could get a good crowd outdoors,” Clapp said. “I don’t know if they’ll change the 50 gathering (limit) even by the end of May.”

The band and chorus could also be reincorporated into the ceremony if it is outdoors, the principal said.

Monticello has held outdoor commencements in the past, but it has been nearly 20 years since the last one.

School board President Gary Huisinga said one downside to outdoor graduations is the possibility of inclement weather, which necessitates the planning of an indoor backup.

“I lived through one or two outdoor ones. It was always interesting, because you always had the weather to worry about, and the wind was the biggest thing,” he said. “They were always setting up at both places, which was twice the work.”

Superintendent Vic Zimmerman warned that plans are still preliminary.

“Just to be clear on the graduation, we’re not 100 percent sure we’re doing it outside, but we want to have a ceremony that is more inclusive than last year’s, and we feel the best way to do that would be an outdoor graduation,” he said.

“If there were no restrictions, we probably wouldn’t even be trying to discuss outdoors,” Clapp said.

Monticello’s football field also features bleachers from end zone to end zone, which would help in keeping attendees distanced, officials said.

Outdoor gatherings were ways to beat the heat in the past, but both the middle school gymnasium and Sievers Center have air conditioning.

Summer school to return

The school board approved offering summer school for the first time in a decade. A pair of two-week sessions — four days per week, three hours per day — will be held in July for all age groups, with individual sections for elementary school grades.

Eighth-grade classes will feature English and math “boot camps,” and high-schoolers taking part will be enrolled in credit-recovery courses.

Principals told the board that summer school “catch up” classes will help in a 12-month period that has seen its share of remote learning and temporary building closures as COVID-19 precautions.

“I think it’s a great idea,” middle school Principal Mark Hughes said. “My background’s in special ed, and one thing I see in special ed is this gap growing between peers. So this idea is more about skill-based instruction, making sure kids have the skills they need so that the gap doesn’t increase as they go to the next grade level.”

“At the elementary, I think the big benefit will just be helping our lowest-achieving kids avoid the summer slide that we see,” said Emily Weidner, principal at White Heath Elementary. “It’s even worse with COVID, so just getting that little boost before school starts.”

“I think it’s a perfect year for it, and a great idea,” Huisinga said.

Zimmerman said the summer program will be funded by federal coronavirus relief money.

Miller gym renovation

Renovation work on Miller Gym — the home of most high school basketball games prior to the opening of the Arthur “Buz” Sievers Center earlier this month — has begun. The $150,000 effort will include bleacher replacement, new LED lighting, paint and a resealing of the floor.

School officials waited on the project until the Sievers Center opened, since bleacher replacement will reduce capacity at Miller by about 30 percent to meet federal accessibility standards.

The Sievers Center has a capacity of 1,459 spectators.

Miller Gym is part of about $423,000 of spring and summer projects approved by the board. Also included, along with estimated costs:

— Front entry signage for the high school ($10,000

— Sievers Center outside lettering ($18,000)

— High school cafeteria/commons door replacement ($20,000)

— Middle school sound system replacement ($40,000)

— High school track surface ($125,000)

— High school wood shop dust collector ($10,000)

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