MILLTOWN/SPOTSWOOD, NJ - The Class of 2020 has been hard hit by the coronavirus pandemic. Every thing from senior trips to the spring sports season were canceled. For months the fate of high school graduation ceremonies hung in the balance. The uncertainty lead a group of Spotswood High School parents to spearhead a campaign to have banners made depicting the senior pictures of the graduating Class of 2020.
"When we first learned that school would be closed for the rest of the year due to COVID-19 a lot of questions started swirling around in the minds of the senior class as well as parents," Spotswood resident and co-founder of the Spotswood/Milltown Banner Project Diane Wells explained. "What would happen to prom, senior trips, graduation? There were so many unknowns. Many parents of graduating seniors follow a nationwide Facebook page for the Class of 2020. It offers support to parents dealing with the losses their kids are facing as well as how individual districts and townships are celebrating their students. One of the ideas shown was in Oklahoma. Banners with student photos were displayed in their local town to honor their senior class."
"A few of us parents, myself, Nicole Pardo-Ievolella and Chris Wathen loved this idea and Chris reposted it to our page in April," continued Wells. "We received a lot of positive comments, so I decided to try to see if we too as a community could do the same for our students. It would come at a great cost financially as we would need to budget for 140+ banners to ensure that all students from Spotswood and Milltown were honored properly. We included Spotswood and Milltown residents graduating from out of district schools as well."
Spotswood and Milltown students attend Spotswood High School along with students from Helmetta. Helmetta Mayor Chris Slavicek donated the 27 banners hanging along Main Street. Slavicek unveiled the banners at the start of June. They will be on display in Helmetta for the entire month.
"This was not a district sponsored endeavor," Wells said of the funding for the banners for Milltown and Spotswood grads. "However, when I reached out to Spotswood Superintendent Graham Peabody, Spotswood High School Principal Amy Jablonski and senior class advisor Andrew Zaborney for support and advice they all eagerly asked how they could help. I then reached out to Mayor Ed Seely in regards to where banners could be displayed. He immediately offered help in the logistics department with pole usage and other utility issues I just didn't have knowledge of. He was also our first donor toward the banner project."
Hanging the banners in Milltown and Spotswood would prove to be more difficult than for those in Helmetta. Helmetta's banners hang from utility poles along Main Street in Helmetta. The same process would not work in Spotswood or Milltown because neither borough owned enough poles to accommodate the number of graduates. In the end, both municipalities would work together to find a workable solution.
"There were many hurdles to cross in finding suitable places to display the banners," Wells explained. "The majority of the poles in Spotswood are owned by JCP&L and only certain poles could be safely used. There weren't enough to display all of our seniors. Spotswood Police Chief Zarro in conjunction with Mayor Ed Seely offered the grass area in front of the municipal building leading to the entrance of the high school to display Spotswood seniors banners."
"In speaking with Milltowns Mayor Trina Mehr she communicated that there are 30 poles in Milltown owned by Milltown township, but they require an insurance rider as well as an insured crew to install which is very costly," Wells continued. "Commander Ron Dixon of the American Legion Joyce Kilmer Post 25 in Milltown was very kind to meet with us and offered the American Legion property to display Milltown's senior banners. Russ Einbinder from King Kong Printing was generous and spoke on our behalf to get us a great quote that was feasible for us to work with. His help enabled us to finally be able to commit to making this project come to fruition."
On Thursday, the senior banners in Spotswood and Milltown were finally unveiled after weeks of work thanks to the donations of numerous people and organizations from both towns.
"I reached out to many organizations in Spotswood and Milltown looking for financial support," Wells said. "I was greeted with an amazing amount of support from the community."
WelIs received donations from the Spotswood Education Foundation, the Spotswood Police Department, the Spotswood Policemen's Benevolent Association, the Spotswood Community Policing Fund, Spotswood Police PBA President Adam Sabatino, Spotswood Mayor Ed Seely, Spotswood Borough Councilman Charles Spicuzzo, Spotswood Mayor-elect Jackie Palmer and American Freight of Delaware. Jeff Bicsko, the Assistant Superintendent of the Middlesex County Vocational and Technical High School in East Brunswick, purchased the banners for MCVTS' graduates from Spotswood and Milltown.
Wells also received help, guidance, manpower, supplies and of course time from John McNamara of Bronson & Guthlein Funeral Home in Milltown, George Regan of C & G Landscaping in Milltown and Doug Krushinski of Fences and More.
"There are quite a few people who need to be thanked for their help and support," Wells said. "This banner project to honor our graduating class of 2020 would not have been possible without you all!"
The following people helped to make the Milltown and Spotswood Class of 2020 banners a reality:
- Nicole Pardo-Ievolella- Milltown parent and co-founder banner project
- Chris Wathen- Milltown parent and co-founder banner project
- Spotswood Superintendent Graham Peabody
- Spotswood High School Principal Amy Jablonski
- Spotswood Administrative Assistant Kathy Losinski
- SHS Class of 2020 Advisors Andrew Zaborney and Jessalyn Cahill
- Spotswood Education Foundation Nick Legakis
- Spotswood Mayor Edward Seely
- Spotswood Chief of Police Dr. Michael Zarro Jr.
- Spotswood PBA President Adam Sabatino
- Spotswood Department of Public Works Rob Mitzleman
- Spotswood Councilman Charles Spicuzzo
- Spotswood Mayor-elect Jackie Palmer
- Vince Davis and Donna Angioletti of BCB Bank
- Milltown Commander of American Legion Ron Dixon
- Milltown Superintendent Stephanie Brown
- Milltown Board of Education member Heidi Corrente
- Milltown Mayor Trina Mehr
- John McNamara owner of the Bronson & Guthlein Funeral Home
- George Regan of C & G Landscaping
- Doug Krushinski of Fences and More
- Dave Potter
- Greg Wathen
- Mike Ievolella
- Miranda Wells
- Russ Einbinder of King Kong Printing
- Assistant Superintendent of MCVTS Jeff Bicsko
- Helmetta Mayor Chris Slavicek
Thanks to the Spotswood Department of Public Works and American Legion Post 25 in Milltown, the Class of 2020 banners will be on display through July 10. A few banners for members of MCVTS' graduating class will be hung as soon as they are available.
East Brunswick's Middlesex County Vocational and Technical School will hold an outdoor graduation ceremony in July. New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy said Garden State high schools could hold outdoor ceremonies after July 6. Spotswood High School will hold a virtual graduation ceremony on Tuesday, June 23. The school will host in-person graduation ceremonies on July 8, July 9 and July 10. The ceremony is being broken down into three sessions in order to comply with social distancing guidelines.
"We are so excited and very thankful that we could do this for our Class of 2020," added Wells.