COVENTRY — Their senior year certainly isn’t playing out as they’d always imagined it would. But with the launch of its “Adopt a Senior” program, a group of parents is determined to ensure that when members of the class of 2021 leave Coventry High School in June, it’s with at least some fond memories of their final year together.
“They’ve lost what should have been rites of passage for them as teenagers — their homecoming, their winter ball, their football season,” Erica Bryson said last week.
Bryson was inspired to do something special for the class following a conversation with her daughter Sarah, a senior at Coventry High School.
“She was expressing her frustration to me about how sad senior year is for her and her friends,” Bryson recalled.
The pandemic has taken a toll on the members of her class, Sarah Bryson said last Wednesday. They missed their final homecoming; prom may or may not be possible; and during senior night a couple of weeks ago, her parents couldn’t even watch her play the last tennis match of her high school career.
“We just want something so we know that everybody’s thinking about us, and know that it’s hard for us,” she said.
Last year, as the coronavirus pandemic took hold, forcing an abrupt switch to distance learning, seniors whose final months of high school were upended were showered with community support.
As pandemic life has become familiar, however, members of this year’s graduating class have had to face a disappointing senior year that doesn’t include the same outpouring of support that was shown to the class of 2020.
“She said, ‘everybody’s kind of used to this now, and is just expecting us to suck it up; it is what it is,’” Bryson said of her conversation with Sarah. “Maybe we have gotten a little more complacent with this group, and that’s not fair.”
Bryson reached out to Brooke Macomber, principal of Coventry High School, and then created a Facebook group to gauge other parents’ interest in organizing some sort of program to show love to their seniors.
In less than a week, more than 200 other parents had joined.
Macomber said she hopes the “Adopt a Senior” program will help the seniors realize that their community cares.
“Our seniors need to know that this community is behind them, just like last year’s seniors knew that,” Macomber said.
Sarah Bryson, meanwhile, said she expects it will finally give her and her peers something to be excited for.
“It’ll just give us something to look forward to, since we can’t look forward to the regular things,” she said.
The goal is for every one of the 332 students who comprise the class of 2021 to be adopted by at least one community member.
Adopters will be matched randomly, and will be asked to commit to surprising their students once per month between December and June.
“It doesn’t have to be extravagant, it doesn’t have to be expensive,” Bryson said. “It just has to be something, once during the month, to show that particular student that you are thinking of them, encouraging them and supporting them.”
Surprises could come in the form of gift baskets or cards, Bryson suggested.
“It could be anything,” she added. “At least it will let that student know that someone in the community is rooting for them.”
A similar program that was created by the parent of a senior last spring seemed to mobilize the community, Macomber said, and when teachers in June weaved their way through town in a car parade for the to-be graduates, Coventry residents of all ages paused and cheered in support.
“I grew up in Coventry — I’ve been here my whole life — and this was the nicest thing that I have seen, with the community coming together the way that they did,” Macomber said.
“This would do the same thing,” she continued. “This would bring the community together to really rally behind the kids and give them some motivation and something to look forward to.”
To say that school looks different this year than it ever has — and, certainly, than members of the senior class had ever imaged — would be an understatement.
“Everything about school is very different this year,” Macomber said.
Where there was once lively conversation, it’s now mostly quiet. Students don’t even get to eat lunch together in the cafeteria, Macomber said.
But despite the unusual circumstance shrouding this school year, she said, the students have “been troopers.”
“The kids have been wonderful,” she said. “But it’s been a tough year.”
Macomber, whose son is a member of Coventry’s senior class, added that she’s been inspired by the way the other parents have rallied in an attempt to brighten their students’ final year of high school.
“It just speaks volumes to the strength of this parent group, and the desire to give these kids a good senior year,” she said, recounting a recent Zoom meeting of nearly 70 parents eager to contribute to Bryson’s cause.
It’s not only for their children’s benefit that the parents want to help out, however. The parents of seniors are also missing out on a lot this year — for example, Bryson said, they don’t get to join their seniors on the “milestone parent-kid” experience of touring colleges.
Parents are accustomed to supporting their students in those kinds of traditional ways, Bryson said.
“As parents, we’ve missed out on the things that we were looking forward to with them... there’s so much loss all around,” she said. “In the absence of those traditions, what can we do to show that we’re excited for them?”
The parents involved with organizing “Adopt a Senior” have some other ideas cooking, as well. They’re working in subcommittees to coordinate other surprises, like parades and fun challenges geared toward safely connecting the seniors with the wider community.
“I can’t stress enough how impressive this group of parents is, and how impressive these seniors are,” Macomber said. “They are just so resilient and strong, and it’s been inspiring just seeing how they’ve handled the hand that they were dealt.”
Anyone interested in adopting a member of the Coventry High School senior class can request to join the “CHS 2021 Adopt a Senior (Coventry, RI)” Facebook group to sign up, or can email Bryson at email@example.com. The deadline to sign up is 11 p.m. on Dec. 8, and matches will be announced Dec. 14 — just in time for adopters to plan a holiday surprise.