Seniors and other students cheer for the football team as they beat Benedictine High School 23-21 Aug. 31, 2018. (Isaac Weiss)
Seniors and other students cheer for the football team as they beat Benedictine High School 23-21 Aug. 31, 2018.

Isaac Weiss

In Final Pandemic Decision, Seniors Are to Complete Fourth Quarter Without Project

Principal Eric Juli informed seniors and families of the cancellation, the last day of instruction and procedure for cap and gown distribution

April 30, 2020

In another email message that disappointed but did not surprise seniors, the district announced yesterday that senior project is canceled, and instruction for the class of 2020 will continue until May 22. 

In an email sent to Shaker seniors and families at 7:35 p.m., Principal Eric Juli outlined how the rest of the school year will work for seniors. 

While the last day of virtual learning for seniors is May 22, they may complete assignments by May 29. 

Senior Lauren Helmick said she and her peers feel unmotivated to continue doing school work. “There’s absolutely no reward out of doing any type of work anymore, because we don’t have prom, we don’t have graduation and we’re already all in college,” she said.

“There are more seniors who may need more time in classes, too, just because it’s been harder to do work during a pandemic,” Juli said in an interview. “We’re trying to still give everybody the best opportunity to get to graduation and work within the confines of the rules that we have in our state.”

“Having said all of that, I don’t want seniors to be loaded up with work until the end of the year,” he said. “I have no interest in that.”

Senior Sophia Stein said the district made a good choice in continuing virtual learning for seniors. “I don’t think I would really be doing anything else that’s productive, at least,” she said. “But at the same time, if it is all busy work, I think it’s not very useful for our learning.”

“If teachers originally didn’t plan for seniors to have school during the month of May, all they’re possibly giving us now is busy work, so I just think it’s pointless,” Helmick said.

Senior Patrick Wise did not express any strong feelings about when seniors would end virtual learning. “I was expecting to keep working anyway, kind of, so I don’t know if it makes a huge difference,” he said.

Senior Kasey Latten expected virtual learning to continue through May. “What else [was the district] going to do? We have requirements to meet,” she said. “They are not being insensitive; they’re trying to work with what they have.”

Teachers may also decrease the workload before the final day of classes.

“I feel bad for teachers who might be having to make new syllabi for different things to teach us, because they weren’t planning on having to teach us during project,” Stein said.

The email also stated that senior project would be canceled this year. 

The health of every student and every student’s family is of the utmost importance to us,” James Schmidt, senior project adviser and science teacher, wrote in a statement posted on senior project Google Classroom. “We simply cannot condone or permit you to possibly expose yourself to this virus and risk any further community spread. There is no senior project that is worth risking your life or the lives of others.”

Senior Bella Smolsky, who was planning to shadow a fourth grade teacher for her senior project, said she was disappointed by the decision to cancel the experience, but not surprised.

“I was upset to learn that we’re still expected to complete work during the time, considering we would not normally be doing work,” Smolsky said. “That’s just what’s most frustrating to me.”

At first I was kind of sad about it not happening, but nothing surprises me anymore.”

— Senior Kasey Latten

Senior project is offered to Shaker students as a way to learn something outside of the classroom they didn’t know before, whether a skill or exposure to a career. Seniors begin the process in November with a declaration of interest, followed by contacting potential sponsors, typically a professional in the intended explored area. After being signed out from their classes by teachers, seniors spend May learning, often outside of the brick walls of the high school. At the end of the month, students come together and present documentation of their work for others to see.

Latten’s senior project was to be working and dancing at her dance studio. “At first I was kind of sad about it not happening, but nothing surprises me anymore,” she said.

Juli said he wanted to honor the schedule seniors would have followed had school not been canceled, but the law passed by state legislators restricts what the school can do. He continued by saying the law that canceled school and End of Course exams “doesn’t give us a mechanism to say, ‘And you can just stop coming to school,’ ” he said. “It says that everyone has to finish school this year. We’re working within the guidelines of the rules that we have to work with within the state.”

“I was thinking that since project, prom and graduation were all canceled and postponed, that maybe the school would do something about it and stop work for us early,” senior Nico Poggio said.

Poggio was to shadow a civil engineer for project. “I was kind of sad to see that something special from senior year got taken away from us,” he said.

Seniors can email Schmidt by May 1 if they believe they can complete their approved project virtually from home. 

This is not meant for you to go out and find a sponsor and a senior project that meets this guideline,” Schmidt wrote. “This is only a ‘Do No Harm’ attempt by your senior project advisors to not take an experience away that would work for you, and that your sponsor wants you to continue with.”

Wise will continue his project virtually. He is working with University Circle, Inc. on researching public transportation in the city. 

“I reached out to my sponsor and asked if they could still do this, and asked ‘What should we do,’ and ‘I’m OK either way, if we do it or if we don’t do it,’ ” Wise said. “And ultimately she got back to me with a solution that basically just involved doing it online.”

Senior Lukas Zarders was going to work in a business in downtown Cleveland for his project. “I was kind of looking forward to it, because when we were freshmen, I remember some of the people doing senior project, and I was like, ‘Wow. I want to do that and I’m excited to do that,’ ” he said. “It’s kind of disappointing that it got taken away from us.”

Helmick was to shadow an employee at Bellefaire — a child service agency that provides behavioral health, substance abuse, education and prevention services to youths and their families.  

Schmidt wrote, “You were going to do great things. You still will. It just cannot be right now.”

The district also announced that it is following state guidelines for credits needed to graduate, rather than district requirements, meaning that seniors who are following alternate graduation paths do not have to complete their path’s requirements.

You were going to do great things. You still will. It just cannot be right now.”

— Science teacher James Schmidt

Alternate graduation paths are made for students who have not earned the state-mandated 18 points on End Of Course Exams in order to graduate. The current state requirements would mean that students on those alternative paths do not have to retake EOC exams, take a work placement test or complete community service hours. 

Juli also announced in the email that graduation caps and gowns — which are now being paid for by the district — will be delivered to the homes of seniors between 11 a.m. and 6 p.m. on May 4. Families who paid for them previously will receive refunds.

“It felt like the right thing to do from all of us in the district to say this is something that we can make a little easier for families,” Juli said. “Especially given that we can’t have the traditional graduation that everybody wants.”

Prom tickets will also be reimbursed by checks delivered via U.S. mail, and signs honoring seniors will be distributed this week.

“If the guidelines change, and we can figure out how to have prom, then people can repurchase tickets,” Juli said.

The news comes eight days after the district announced that the class of 2020 would have a virtual graduation on June 3, and nine days after Gov. Mike DeWine announced that all Ohio K-12 schools would be closed for the remainder of the school year. After the commencement announcement, a message promoting a protest  April 24 circulated among students and parents.

“People who are being rude and being hateful toward the district for canceling senior activities need to realize that it is not their fault,” Latten said. “They’re trying to work with what they have.”

Juli said, “I want seniors who need more assignments to get across the finish line to have that opportunity, and I want seniors who don’t need more assignments to not be overloaded in these last couple of weeks, because it’s enough already.”

The Shakerite will continue to cover this story as it develops. Mae Nagusky and Morgan Fowler contributed reporting.

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