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Noting the end of the school year in a pandemic
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Noting the end of the school year in a pandemic

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Lincoln East return and retrieval

Lincoln East staff line the road west of the school to wish farewell to graduating seniors Tuesday as they arrived in shifts to drop off and pick up school items, personal belongings and graduation caps and gowns. 

Kelli Cederdahl’s sign said it all, really: Hello and good-bye and oh-how-we’ve-missed-you, all wrapped up in a bit of humor and delivered in black Sharpie and cardboard.

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The Lincoln East art teacher, appropriately masked, stood alongside a line of other East teachers Tuesday morning holding signs — Congratulations! Way to Go Spartans! We will miss you! — and cheering as the school’s seniors drove along the street that loops across the west end of the school.

“Oh, my gosh, I couldn’t sleep last night — I was so excited to get here,” said Cederdahl.

It was a small gesture, a way to mark the end of their final school year as seniors came to return their Chromebooks, pick up anything they’d left at school and grab their cap and gown for a graduation ceremony that remained uncertain.

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Just how — and whether — schools would be able to do anything to mark the end of the year as some students turned in school belongings was up in the air for a while, but eventually district officials gave schools the go-ahead.

Only graduating seniors and those moving to a new school next year — fifth and eighth graders — were allowed to return Chromebooks and get anything they’d left at school before spring break just a little over two months ago, with no real inkling they would not be coming back.

At middle and high schools across the city, teachers made signs and hung decorations and put on costumes and played music to help students note the end of a school year where dining room tables and bedroom desks became the classroom.

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A Dawes Middle School math teacher hung a banner across the front of the building with each eighth grader's name on it, printed large enough to be seen from the street.

On Wednesday, fifth graders will make the trek to their elementary schools hosting similar festivities. Some schools had virtual recognition ceremonies and saw slideshows of their classes last week.

At East, students drove to stations set up around the outside of the school, dropping off instruments and Chromebooks and library books. Picking up yearbooks (surprise, kids!) and stuff they'd left in the hallway and their gym lockers (surprise, moms!)

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Principal Sue Cassata said teachers were excited to help.

“Anything that lets them see the kids,” she said. “Being back in the building helps. Bringing closure to the school year. I think that’s a good thing.”

Teachers brainstormed ways to end their classes, asking reflective questions at final Zoom meetings, making videos. In the last months of school, she said, staff also found ways to stay connected: virtual fitness sessions hosted by PE teachers, trivia contests and various friendly competitions.

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But they missed their students, who drove by Tuesday with parents and friends, waving and fist-pumping at the sign-carrying educators.

Sooki Domico was sad about everything she missed — prom and senior pranks and graduation parties — but happy to get one last glimpse at the school where she’d spent so much of her time.

“It’s one last goodbye,” she said.

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As much as kids like to pretend they don’t like school, English teacher Helen Cooper knows they've missed it, and she thinks this gesture — teachers masked and in lawn chairs and blaring music from speakers — helped.

“I think you need a bookend to your high school experience,” she said. “There’s a normalcy to seeing at least half of our faces.”

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Reach the writer at 402-473-7226 or mreist@journalstar.com.

On Twitter @LJSreist

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Education reporter

Margaret Reist is a Lincoln native, the mom of three high school graduates now navigating college and an education junkie who covers students, teachers and policymakers inside and outside the K-12 classroom.

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More than 3,000 high school seniors in Lincoln are graduating into a world nobody’s navigated before, staring into a pandemic that has closed schools, slashed families’ economic security and, for many graduates, changed their college plans.

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