UNION, NJ – Hannah Caldwell Elementary School fourth grade students participated in a non-traditional graduation ceremony on Wednesday in keeping with strict guidelines for safety during COVID-19.

“This school year was quite challenging and surreal,” said fourth grade teacher Andrea Vaynberg.  “One ordinary, quiet day in March, we were preparing for our Saint Patrick's Day fundraiser and our upcoming field trip.  Suddenly, our plans were abruptly changed when we found out we would be learning remotely and would not be returning to class until further notice.”

"I have known many of our fourth grade students since their kindergarten days and have watched them mature," said Principal Kathryn DiGiovanni.  "I am proud of their efforts to become successful students. I hope they never lose their enthusiasm for learning and that they always have fond memories of Hannah Caldwell School. I congratulate them and their families as our students move on to fifth grade."

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“At the beginning of the school year, no one could ever have imagined what was to come,” said teacher Diane Pasquale.  “Our students came to school each day with smiles on their faces and ready to start their day. Before anyone could prepare, the classroom became virtual, and everything changed.”  What did not change, said Pasquale, was the resilience of the Hannah Caldwell fourth graders. “Their ability to navigate and command the implementation of technology has been extraordinary. This has made me so proud to be their teacher.  I am honored to have had the opportunity to know each and every one of my students. These children, our future, give me great hope.”

Vaynberg said as teachers this time has taught so much about the courage and integrity of students during such unprecedented circumstances. “We learned our fourth graders were not going to let obstacles stop them from learning.  Students jumped on to the learning platforms and were eager to continue their routine.”

Hannah Caldwell School students frequently took the initiative to email teachers with questions, ask for clarification when needed, and even request extra practice work for extra credit, said fourth grade teacher Kelly McFarlane.  “We especially appreciated how our students came together and supported one another as a community.  It made us so proud to read encouraging messages they would post on our Google Classroom stream.  At times, fellow students would respond to the questions of their peers before we were able to.  This made us realize that all of the lessons on kindness and being good to one another were heard.”

"Though not traditional, yesterday's car graduation ceremony was a heart-warming way to say goodbye to my students,” said fourth grade teacher Heather Baumann.  “The few moments that I shared with each of my students reinforced the bond that we created back in September.  It was like no time had passed, and we were able to smile (hidden behind our masks) and laugh just like we did when we last saw each other in March.”

“When  the teachers, staff, and PTA of Hannah Caldwell Elementary School came together to plan a graduation car procession, we were so proud and excited to celebrate the successes, hard work, and determination of the graduating 4th grade class,” said McFarlane.  “Though it was not our traditional graduation ceremony, students drove up with smiles and style and most of all...Dolphin Pride!  Congratulations Class of 2020!”

Baumann said the students seemed to love the whole experience and it was easy to see the excitement on all their faces when seeing their homeroom and special area teachers.  “I feel fortunate that the PTA put together a magnificent event where  I had the opportunity to say farewell.”