Education

Ways To Celebrate Traditional End-of-the-Year School Transitions

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Kids are missing out on the usual end-of-year celebrations this year due to school closures and social distancing guidelines. This can be a real problem, as experts agree that missing out on the community connection, recognition, and closure these rites of passage offer can lead to real sadness and grief for kids. With no in-person yearbook signings, graduation parties (for seniors or lower grades alike), proms, or goodbye high fives from teachers in most regions, school communities have had to come up with other ways to mark these traditions.

In some cases, school staff are able to plan alternative end-of-year events for their students. And in other cases, parents, students, and even celebrities are taking the initiative to make sure kids still get to experience something truly memorable even if they can’t see their friends and teachers in person.

Virtual proms

Some virtual proms hosted by schools, as well as DIY ones organized by teens and celebrities, have already taken place, and there are sure to be more to come. The virtual events offered high schoolers the chance to dress up and celebrate while staying at home. Many attendees decided to video chat with a few close friends while experiencing the prom so they could react to the music and announcements together and enjoy each other’s outfits and dance moves. Interested in setting one up? We have a step-by-step guide to help.

One student, Sophia Gannaoui of Florida, told the BBC that one advantage of the virtual prom was that her friends were less shy about dancing than they would have been at an in-person prom: “It was nice to see them break through that barrier and be able to be like that behind a computer screen, so it does have its conveniences when it comes to building up confidence.”

Another high schooler, Isabella Domidion of Kentucky, gushed about her virtual prom, “It gave me something to look forward to, and a way to celebrate all the hard work from this year with all the people I love, all while practicing safe social distancing. It really was a blast!”

Graduation celebrations—for all grades

Many high schools are postponing or canceling graduation ceremonies, or moving them to an online format. In some cases, virtual graduations can actually offer unique opportunities to a greater number of students. For example, Oprah Winfrey will deliver a commencement address virtually in June for all of Chicago’s high school seniors, including public, charter, and private school graduates.

Other schools are getting creative in order to hold in-person events. Drive-through processions or celebrations offer one way for families to mark the occasion with a physical presence, while practicing safe social distancing. Some schools are taking advantage of venues like drive-in movie theaters. For example, North Salem Middle High School in New York is planning to use a local drive-in movie venue to screen videos, speeches, and more so that families can attend safely in their cars.

Families are finding unique ways to make graduation special too, whether it’s for kindergarten, 8th grade, or high school. Parents are still planning photoshoots with their graduates, of course, and some are creating photo albums of their star students’ school years. You may be able to order a cap and gown online if your school is not supplying them—or ask your graduate what they’d want to wear to make the day special!

Families are hosting drive-by graduation parties or parades where attendees can offer their congratulations from the safety of their vehicles. Many families are decorating their front doors and lawns with school colors and signs, so that a drive around town can become a festive occasion for everyone—often with schools amplifying the school spirit and celebratory mood on social media. Some districts have organized Facebook group swaps where other parents can “adopt” your graduate to send them cards and treats, making students feel special during a time that, for many, can feel like a bit of a let down after putting in so many years of hard work.

Parents can coordinate with their students’ friends and family to send in video messages, which they can edit into one big keepsake graduation video. And just like the virtual proms, there are plenty of online graduation parties being planned this year with celebrity guest appearances. So graduates of all ages can snuggle up in the living room with their families or meet up with a few close friends on Zoom to watch one of the virtual graduations together.

End-of-the-year parties

For younger kids, there are lots of ways to recreate the games and celebratory feel of the usual classroom party. Plan an age-appropriate activity like a remote scavenger hunt or do a craft together. To coordinate a virtual arts and crafts activity, you can either send or drop off a kit of supplies to each participant, or send out a list of basic household supplies to have on hand (we recommend choosing something simple that you’ve tested out beforehand with your child, or asking the teacher for input—they might already have had a party plan you can adapt for an online celebration). And no classroom party is complete without snacks! Have each child bring their favorite party food, or drop treats off at each family’s home—if you drop off just the ingredients for a simple recipe, making it together on-screen could even be part of the fun.

Without being able to hug friends, relatives, and favorite teachers, the end of the school year won’t be the same for students. But if you can find a way to make it special and memorable despite everything, you might even start a new tradition that sticks!


Dealing with school closures, childcare issues, or other challenges related to coronavirus? Find support, advice, activities to keep kids entertained, learning opportunities and more in our Coronavirus Parents: Parenting in a Pandemic Facebook Group.

For ongoing updates on coronavirus-related issues and questions that impact children and families, please find additional resources here.




Joanna Eng is a freelance writer and editor, Lambda Literary Fellow, and co-founder of Dandelions, a parenting and social justice newsletter. She lives with her wife and child in the New York City area, where she is constantly seeking out slivers of nature. You can find her on Twitter @joannamengland.