For Texans Can Academies students, the road to graduation can be much longer and steeper than for most. These students have shown perseverance and strength that would normally be honored at a classic graduation ceremony but because of the COVID-19 crisis, their chance to walk the stage has been delayed to August. When administrators and teachers at Texans Can Academies Oak Cliff learned that their 28 graduating seniors wouldn’t have a ceremony, they knew they had to do something to celebrate their students’ hard work.
Texans Can students overcome many more obstacles to be in school and stay in school than most high school students. Some had dropped out of school and earned their diplomas with hard work and perseverance. Many of their students work part-time or full-time and need the flexible hours the Texans Can schools offer so that they are able to stay in school. Many are the first in their families to earn a high school diploma. Many need extra tutoring and one-on-one attention to get caught up to their grade levels. For all, high school graduation is a huge accomplishment and the ceremony is one they have been dreaming of anxiously working to earn.
“We were trying to find a way to honor our students who are waiting to hear from us about their graduation ceremony,” Texans Can Academies Oak Cliff Principal Norma Villegas said. “We decided to not cancel but postpone our senior events, but in the midst of this pandemic, we knew we had to do more for them so we decided to create celebratory yard signs and personally deliver them to each graduating student.”
The idea of a social distanced graduation goody delivery train quickly blossomed into much more.
“At first it was just going to be myself and my administrative team but when I mentioned it to the staff, everyone jumped on board, or more accurately, lined up their cars,” Villegas explained. “We carefully planned our route to visit each student – the drive route to their homes should have taken two hours but we ended up in our cars for six hours, stopping and celebrating our kids. It was amazing.”
Faculty and staff decorated their cars with paint markers and graduation party decorations and lined up to visit their accomplished students. Staff honked, waved, and shouted messages of love and support from afar. They embodied the notion of being all together while apart.
“Honestly, I think the event did more for us,” Villegas admitted. “It was so uplifting and took us back to the reason why we do what we do in all this chaos. We work so hard with our students to see them walk the stage, it keeps us going. These times are scary and we don’t know what will happen tomorrow but yesterday was about our students and showing them the love and pride we have for them. It really helped to take some time to appreciate the moment with each individual student.”
Texans Can Academies Oak Cliff will hold a graduation ceremony for their students at the end of the summer at Friendship-West Baptist Church. Though the final plans have yet to be made, their staff is determined that their students will walk the stage.
“It might be three or five at a time, spread out, families spaced between pews, I’m not sure,” Villegas added. “But my students will walk. Our kids work so hard to get this diploma, they deserve it.”