NEWARK, NJ — The current coronavirus crisis, among many other negative things, has potentially nullified a well-remembered rite of passage for high school students everywhere - the senior prom.
But in Newark, the local teachers union has promised the proms to be held in the city's high schools will definitely happen when society is safe again.
"We want to make sure that our students receive a ceremony, and that they receive a prom," said John Abeigon, president of the Newark Teachers Union, after reading that Newark Public Schools Superintendent Roger Leon announced that the city's educational authorities would do everything they can to ensure that the city’s high school seniors would have a graduation ceremony. "If there is a financial cost to this, we can contribute our fair share to make sure that our kids get our proper recognition at the end of the school year."
Leon made his statement in a Webex meeting on Friday, as reported by TAPinto Newark. Mayor Ras Baraka addressed the matter on Tuesday during his daily update, saying that prom and graduation will “most likely” have to be postponed due to social distancing measures. Baraka also reassured high school seniors that their special graduation traditions wouldn’t be robbed of them, but couldn’t confirm what would be done.
The toll of the conoravirus crisis on New Jersey's largest city is getting more and more dire by the day. The number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in Newark jumped from 938 cases on Friday to 1,117 cases on Saturday according to figures provided by Essex County, with 35 deaths as of Saturday morning.
Essex County has suffered 3,584 confirmed cases as of Saturday afternoon according to state authorities, with 155 deaths. New Jersey has suffered 34,124 confirmed as of the same time frame, with 846 deaths.
Abeigon hopes that helping to celebrate high school proms across Newark could provide both a morale boost and a sense of normalcy during uncertain and unnerving times.
"We don't want to belittle the death, sadness, and destruction that the pandemic is causing, but at the same time, you have to have hope," Abeigon said while noting the grave COVID-19 statistics. "If we can instill some of that hope in our youth, we'd be proud to do it."
Abeigon pointed out that in the same way that the Dodge Poetry Foundation uses the annual Dodge Poetry Festival to celebrate and promote poetry in venues all across Newark, the same type of support could happen when Newark's high schools are once again permitted to hold proms.
"If a high school is thrown out of its prom venue for whatever reason, we would help them get into another venue within the city of Newark and assist them with whatever costs are associated with that," Abeigon said, pointing to the New Jersey Performing Arts Center (NJPAC), the Newark Museum of Art, Symphony Hall, and the Robert Treat Hotel as possible prom sites. "It might get to a point when we might have to hold a universal prom evening. Why not? I know that the public and non-profit sectors would kick in because these venues are mostly public spaces. And I'm pretty sure that the private sector is ready to kick in, too."
In the end, the local teachers union leader noted that his organization, part of Newark since 1938, is part of a city that survived the awful impact of all of independent America's wars, the 1918 Spanish flu pandemic, and the 1967 riot. For Abeigon, his union members, and all those who live in the city or love it from a distance, whatever happens, Newark will work it out.
"We've been raised with the notion that it takes a village to raise a child in Newark, and we're a strong believer in that adage. Every once in a while, the village actually has to start acting like a village. This is definitely one of those cases," Abeigon said.
"Newark is always referred to as a big city, but it's also a small town. Everyone knows everyone. At times like this, we come together. Whether or not we've had past controversies, we're a family," Abeigon added. "As good teachers, we always watch and adjust. After their parents and their guardians, no one is closer to these kids than their teachers. We'll do whatever it takes for them."