SOUTH PLAINFIELD, NJ – The announcement everyone pretty much expected was rendered on May 4, with Governor Phil Murphy officially canceling in-person instruction for the remainder of the 2019-2020 school year. 

While safety is of utmost concern, the decision to continue virtual learning through mid-June now means hundreds of South Plainfield students will not have the opportunity to pass through the halls of their schools one last time, experience many anticipated rites of passages, or get a chance to say good-bye. 

“I am deeply saddened by the governor's announcement of officially closing down all schools in the state for the rest of the year. This announcement [makes me feel] frustrated and upset because thousands of seniors have been stripped away from their final year of high school…” Kevin Veliz, a senior and an officer for SPHS’s Class of 2020 who plans to go to Rutgers University in the fall, said.

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“…I wanted to go back to school to finish making memories with friends that I may never see after we graduate because that’s how life goes after school,” continued Veliz. 

“It's a bittersweet feeling, I am happy and excited, just as if [we] weren’t under lockdown and quarantine, to move onto college, to go experience new things, [and to] make new friends that I will know for hopefully all my life,” Aleks Slicner, a member of South Plainfield High School’s (SPHS) Class of 2020 who plans to attend Florida’s Embry Riddle Aeronautical University in the fall, told TAPinto South Plainfield.

“At the same time, I am sad because I probably won't have a chance to see the people that I grew up with, played with, and talked with all the time for the past 12-plus years. There is no ‘proper good-bye,’” Slicner added. 

To date, the coronavirus crisis has already resulted in the cancellation of such anticipated senior-centered events as Battle of the Classes, prank and cut days, and Project Graduation along with the Gold Star Picnic, Snapple Bowl, and leading roles in the school play not to mention dozens of academic and athletic awards dinners, ceremonies, and inductions. 

“It’s sad. I am especially upset because I am supposed to be moving over 1,000 miles away for college and wanted this last hurrah with my fellow seniors,” added SPHS Student Body Vice President Zoë Lambert, who plans to attend Florida Atlantic University in the fall. “We’ve all been waiting for prom, graduation, ring ceremonies, and other send-offs. It’s upsetting, but better days are near.”

Currently, the district has not officially ruled out holding either senior prom or a live-and-in person graduation ceremony at a later date; at press time, administrators have committed to holding the formal dance up until July 31 and an in-person graduation in late summer, early fall, or even in 2021. In the meantime, other options – including a virtual ceremony – are being considered for the last day of the 2019-2020 school year. 

"I will be working with the high school administration to make sure that we plan the best possible graduation that we can - a virtual one, a secondary one – we will do whatever we need to ensure that our students are recognized as they should be..." stated Superintendent Dr. Noreen Lishak at the Mary 13 virtual board of education meeting, adding, "This is a moving target; graduation is ever-changing for us, and we are trying to keep up with it. Rest assured we will make sure you have the best possible graduation that you can have on the day we finish school for the 2019-2020 school year."

“Working [all these years toward] graduation - blood, sweat, and a heck of a lot of tears – all boils down to one moment. It's a big deal, and it's a shame it won't be the way that we wanted it to be when we came in,” said Slicner, adding, optimistically, “I am 100-percent confident that our administration will try to make it the best graduation that we could possibly have under the given circumstances.” 

While the Class of 2020 is, perhaps, most hard-hit by the governor’s announcement, South Plainfield's fourth, sixth, and eighth graders are also disappointed. Although dances, art shows, concerts, trips, and musical performances may not be as momentous as high school graduation, to the students, these events are just as important. 

For eighth graders, the closure due to the coronavirus crisis means no South Plainfield Middle School graduation ceremony as well as no Washington D.C. trip and no formal along with a long list of already canceled academic and athletic celebrations. 

Michael Esposito told TAPinto that the trip and the dance, along with the cancelation of Battle of the Teams and the wrestling banquet, are what he is most disappointed about. “When they said that school was being canceled for the rest of the year I knew none of these things were going to happen,” said Michael. “This was my last year in middle school so now when we go back I will be in high school and everything is going to be really different.”

Fellow eighth grader Emma Benowitz is also disappointed about missing out on the class trip, dance, and a graduation ceremony with all of her classmates. “I miss my friends and my teachers and being with them all in person. It’s just not the same,” said Emma, adding that while she understands the decision to keep schools closed was the right one, that doesn’t mean it is any less disappointing. 

“They are taking precautions so more people don’t get sick and it’s a good idea to keep us out of school but it’s still very sad. We are missing what other eighth graders before us experienced and what others after us will get to experience,” she said. 

Although the move from Grant to the South Plainfield Middle School is not typically celebrated with any type of ceremony, the shortened school year means sixth graders are also missing on out on anticipated events. 

“I had a great time at last year's picnic and was looking forward to this year's end-of year-party. Our glow dance also got canceled. Considering these are the only two fun events where the whole grade is together, I was really disappointed. On a more positive note, Grant School did do a great job with the virtual play, and I was excited to see that,” said Gabby Cicenia, adding, that she is ‘most upset’ about not being to spend her ‘last moments in Grant with her friends.’ “The friends I have in a lot of my classes this year might not be in my classes next year. I will also be leaving a lot of good teachers that I won't see next year.”

“I was looking forward to the picnic at the end of the year as well as field day,” said Mya Marin. “Also, since Grant is still considered elementary I feel like I am missing out on the experience of moving up and that feeling of walking out on the last day knowing you are off to middle school.”

For fourth graders, like Gia Esposito, not going back to school this year is disappointing because it means so many things she and her elementary peers have been looking forward to will now not take place. 

“One of the things I am really going to miss because school was canceled is our fourth grade class trip. This is the last class trip we really go on; there are no more class trips in Grant. I am also sad that I won’t get to go to the Somerset Patriots game that Mr. Betram takes the safety patrols to…Thinking about the annual Roosevelt family formal also makes me sad. It was going to be the last one I could attend with my family. I was looking forward to dancing with my friends and taking pictures in the picture booth,” said Gia, adding that is also sad about the promotion ceremony. 

“At our promotion we watch a video with our baby pictures and all our memories throughout the years. I remember crying at my brother’s promotion because I was going to miss having him in my school. Now, I won’t even have a promotion ceremony for anyone to cry at,” said Gia. “I’m really sad about all the memories I won’t be able to share with my friends… I know I will see most of my friends next year in Grant but it won’t be the same. I am really sad I didn’t get to say good-bye to all my teachers either.”

“I miss being with friends, teachers and seeing everyone, taking out library books, playing bass in the school band, and working as Safety Patrol. I miss talking with friends at lunch, too,” said Kennedy fourth grader and Student Council President Brody Rinaldi, adding, “I'm also disappointed about the clap out. It’s your last time seeing everyone and a chance to officially say good-bye to Kennedy and your awesome teachers.” 

In the South Plainfield School District, the move from elementary school to Grant has, for several years, been celebrated at each of the four buildings with a ‘clap out;’ on the last day of school, fourth graders walk around and out the school one last time and are 'clapped out' by fellow students as well as teachers and staff. As they exit the building, families and friends wait, gathered to celebrate their promotion. 

"It’s always been so cool to watch the kids before us, and we were all excited about how this was ‘our year’ to be ‘clapped out.’ Now my friends and I won't get to experience that and that’s sad,” said Franklin fourth grader Lilliana Davis, adding that she's disappointed that she didn't get to finish out the year with chorus and orchestra, or as a member of safety patrol and a Wingman leader. 

"Last year, my friends and I were so excited about moving up to fourth grade and being the oldest in the school...I really wish I took this year more seriously. I didn’t know in the middle of March that it was the last time I would be in Franklin Elementary," said Lilliana. “I know it could be worse, like being in your senior year of high school, but it still stinks...I would rather go to summer school just to walk those halls again.”

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