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Cecil graduation ceremonies will look different this year, set to begin May 26

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Elkton graduation

2019 Elkton High School valedictorian Connie Chen looks on after receiving her diploma last year. This year, graduation ceremonies countywide will look different.

CECIL COUNTY — Graduation for Cecil County high school students will probably look very different this year due to the COVID-19 global pandemic, which has already significantly changed how seniors spent their final year in high school.

Earlier this week, Cecil County Public Schools Superintendent Dr. Jeffrey Lawson outlined a graduation plan for the county’s five area high schools and the Cecil County School of Technology. The plan will give all seniors an opportunity to go to their school to receive their diploma and be recognized on stage in a socially distant concept.

Lawson noted that individual schools would be providing their own specific plans and mentioned during Wednesday’s CCPS Board of Education meeting a meeting he had with the various principals earlier on Wednesday to discuss their individual plans for graduation.

The plan is expected to see graduation ceremonies begin on May 26, and Lawson said as each school will be limited to around 15-20 students per hour it could take several hours or perhaps even multiple days to complete ceremonies. Students will have the opportunity to individually receive their diplomas and be recognized on stage, with some schools using auditoriums while others will be using their football stadiums, Lawson said.

Lawson also said that the individual schools have arranged for videographers to film the ceremonies and the hope is to have the individual schools’ videos available to the community sometime in June. Lawson also noted that May 22 will be the last day for seniors, with the last day for underclassmen including preschool through 11th grade will be June 15.

Technology updates

During Wednesday’s meeting CCPS Director of Technology Services Kyle Rickansrud provided the board with updates, especially as it pertains to the district’s COVID-19 response.

Rickansrud said the district has delivered approximately 5,000 devices and secured a total of 200 hotspots around the county for students, parents and staff. Also, as a measure to help administrative staff, the district has also provided laptops for all lead and 10-month secretaries.

One of the other developments the district has implemented is the creation of student email accounts for grades 3-7, which Rickansrud said has helped to connects teachers with parents and students.

Rickansrud said the district has also opened up all of the district’s learning management systems for all grade levels, meaning that Blackboard and Google Classroom would now be available for everyone’s use.

He noted that teachers had logged 900 hours on the district’s professional development course specifically designed for essential online learning tools and engagement practices.

He noted that use of Google Suite software has increased significantly since the schools closed in the middle of March. Since that time he noted that 9.4 million total emails have been sent, 1.8 million new files have been added and 4,170 video hangouts have been conducted including data up to May 4.

Rickansrud said there are 295 active Blackboard online courses, where students have logged a total of 21,628 hours.

Since the school closures caused by COVID-19, Rickansrud said the district has expanded by installing the Bark for Schools program for all students. Bark for Schools is an internet filtering software system that helps to filter unsafe content for students and alerts administrators to any images or content that may be harmful to students.

Rickansrud said the district has also expanded its phone systems and has installed a new plug-in system for the purpose of emailing report cards. He also noted that there is a CCPS communications app for both iOS and Android phones the district is excited about.

District transitioning to Schoology

During the meeting Rickansrud and Lawson discussed the Schoology program, which the district wants to transition to from the currently used Blackboard software. According to information presented during the meeting, the Schoology software has superior integration with Google and allows parents the opportunity to see their child’s work.

The board unanimously approve the purchasing department’s request to award a contract to PowerSchool for the Schoology software in the amount of $106,260 for a 39-month contract period.

Lawson said that the district was already working to transition from Blackboard to Schoology when the COVID-19 virus hit and that the ensuring shutdown sped up the transition process between the two.

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