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Yard signs, stadium lights honor Class of 2020

Rick Wagner • Apr 30, 2020 at 2:00 PM

KINGSPORT — Local high school seniors are winding down 13 years of school amid a pandemic that has led to cancelled proms and left graduation ceremonies uncertain.

However, schools in Kingsport and Sullivan County are finding other ways to honor members of the Class of 2020, including distributing yard signs, lighting up stadiums and holding other special events.

“We definitely miss having staff and students on campus. That’s the heart of school. Otherwise, it’s just glass and brick,” Dobyns-Bennett High School Principal Chris Hampton said Wednesday after he finished delivering some signs to seniors.

FRIDAY NIGHT LIGHTS

Sullivan County’s four high schools have their Friday Night Lights events set from 8 p.m. to 9  p.m. May 1, while D-B had a similar event April 22.

Sullivan North Principal Josh Davis said the school delivered school-funded yard signs to 120 seniors on April 24. For the Friday Night Lights, he said the campus will be decorated with, among other things, balloon arches.

At Sullivan South, the yard signs were made by “various people in the community creating and selling” them, Principal Josh Tate said. 

“We have other items in the works, such as a senior spring sports tribute video and an academic honors recognition video. Those will be released on our social media,” Tate noted.

Sullivan Central will “light up both stadiums” (baseball and football) for seniors to drive through, Principal Mark Foster said, and will invite seniors to drive through campus. He said plans are to distribute yard signs and T-shirts, if they are ready, to 197 seniors that night.

Foster added that some yard signs already displayed in the community were made by a third-party vendor.

At Sullivan East, Principal Andy Hare said that school folks delivered yard signs to 192 seniors April 17. He said faculty participated and that the track coach set up a last run for his athletes using social distancing.

In addition to hosting Friday Night Lights on May 1, Hare said East plans on May 9 to hand out prom favors already purchased before that event was cancelled. Two days before, on May 7, Class Night will be held virtually because of the pandemic. Hare also noted that the school will make the campus available by appointment to seniors and their families to take photographs of the graduates in caps and gowns.

As for Dobyns-Bennett, which has 530 seniors including those at D-B EXCEL, J. Fred Johnson Stadium, the tennis courts, soccer field, track and softball field were lit up April 22, an event Hampton said “exceeded what my expectations would have been” because some adults without children also drove through.

HERE’S YOUR D-B SIGN

The following day, about 79 D-B faculty and staff members, including Hampton, began delivering yard signs. Out-of-zone tuition students also had signs delivered.

“I think we are finished now,” Hampton said Wednesday afternoon. “Some have changed their addresses.”

He said the signs were funded by the school using some funds that normally would have gone to prom and academic honors event originally set for May 3. Instead, he said information about the winners of local and regional scholarships and other awards will be distributed on social media in May.

LOOKING FORWARD

Uncertainty over what the 2020-21 academic year to start in August will look like has school officials thinking about various scenarios, including returning to school with online learning or going back to it sometime during the school year if the coronavirus pandemic returns. Other unknowns include athletics, band and chorus.

“We don’t really know what could happen next year, especially what could happen in August,” Central’s Foster said.

Further complicating things is that 2020-21 is to be the last year for North, South and Central, which will cease to exist as high schools with the opening of the new West Ridge High in August of 2021.

North has been sold to Kingsport for use as the new Sevier Middle School, while South and Central are to become county middle schools, which will mean the closure of some more existing county middle schools.

Davis of North said the distribution of digital devices and online learning programs show that the local education systems can and will operate virtually if need be in the future. On the other hand, he said that he hopes the last years for Central, South and North high schools will be as in-person schools.

“It’s going to be a lot easier in the future because we know we have what it takes,” Davis said of online academics. “We need to get back in the buildings. We need to close these schools the right way.”

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