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Coronavirus Florida: High school seniors celebrated with yard signs amid 'tough year'

Andrea Stetson
Daily News Correpsondent
Walton Sun

Collier and Lee county schools officials, parents and the community are trying to do something special for high school seniors. This year it means getting creative and doing things that have never been done before.

On Monday, every senior in Collier County was given a yard sign with their school name and the words “Senior Class of 2020.”

“I think it is a neat thing,” said Kamela Patton, Collier County Schools superintendent. “It is a tough year. There is no question about how tough the year is for the seniors. To let them be special is really, really unique.”

St. John Neumann Catholic High School in Naples also put signs in the front yards of seniors.

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Lee County Schools are planning yard signs for seniors, too.

“We are making signs and they will be distributed when students pick up their cap and gowns later this month,” said Rob Spicker, a district spokesman.

All 3,400 Collier seniors received one of the 18-by-24 signs for free. The signs are being paid for with donations.

“We got an anonymous donation,” said Mark Rosenbalm, supervisor of interscholastic athletics who helped organize the sign project. “We got funds to help get this project off the ground.”

Presstige Printing, a local company, is producing the signs.

“It was important to us to keep it local,” said Lisa Morse, Collier County public schools director of community engagement. “I just think it is a wonderful way to celebrate our seniors in their homes, which is where they have to be now. I think the whole community wants to support them, so now they can see all the seniors that are graduating just in a different way.”

Debbie Moore, whose daughter Lexi is a senior at Gulf Coast High School, took photos of her daughter in front of the sign in their yard.

“I thought the banners were a cute idea,” Debbie Moose said.

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Melissa Sloan — whose twin daughters, Lauren and Heather Howard, are seniors at Barron Collier High School — called the signs a "very nice touch."

“The neighborhoods are just flooded with signs, and they are just great," Sloan said.

Lauren and Heather are disappointed that they are missing so much their senior year. But they appreciate the things being done to give them some special moments.

“I think that they are doing their best,” said Heather Howard, who will attend University of South Florida in August. “Obviously it is hard for us. It is not traditional. We didn’t get our prom. I know they are trying. They are doing as much as they can right now.

“There are actually a lot of people that have them in our neighborhood, so it feels like a community thing,” she said. “We are not alone.”

Lauren Howard, who is heading to the University of Florida, said they are taking family pictures by the sign in their yard.

“I think they are trying really hard to make sure that we get recognition as seniors and have a special senior year,” Lauren Howard said. “Obviously there isn’t much they can do. I am grateful for what we are able to have.”

The signs were so popular that teachers and community members wanted them, too, so the district sold them to the public for $10. More than 140 orders were placed the first day. The signs are no longer being sold.

“I have to have one,” Patton said. “I am in a condo building. I already talked to the condo people to see if I can adjust the rules. Maybe I can put it in the mail room. I can put it in the window when I drive around in the car. The Sheriff’s Office will have one. The deputies will drive around with one. It will be kind of cool.”

Patton said she was glad to be able to do something for seniors that had never been done before.

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“I think it is one of the things I am happy about,” she said.

Morse, the community engagement director, said graduation isn't just about senior year but a 13-year accomplishment.

"We want to do as much as we can to make it as right as we can," she said. "This was just a very doable step.”

Patton said she was also glad that students will get a graduation. The plan is for a virtual graduation on June 3 and a live walk across the stage event on July 24, or sometime in December if social distancing is still in effect in July.

The virtual event will feature photos of the seniors in their cap and gowns in front of their yard signs.

“It is just tough all the way around,” Patton said. “We all wanted them to have a traditional ceremony. It just can’t be done. We heard loud and clear that what our kids wanted was an event. Not a small event. What I am proud about is they already have a date. We are trying to do the best we can.”

Schools around the country are also thinking outside the box to celebrate seniors.

At Poplar Springs High School building in Graceville, Florida, the principal had seniors' photos enlarged and lined both sides of the school’s driveway with them.

In Biloxi, Mississippi, Biloxi High School’s Class of 2020 will have a traditional graduation ceremony next month, done in nine different groups over the course of three days.

In Wylie, Texas, principal Virdie Montgomery spent 12 days driving more than 800 miles to make home visits to 636 graduating seniors.

This story originally published to naplesnews.com, and was shared to other Florida newspapers in the new Gannett Media network.