Plano ISD seniors, staff share thoughts on district's efforts as month of senior recognition begins

Erica Johnson, a member of the science department at Plano East Senior High, celebrates seniors passing by waving her sign and cowbell in the air at the yard sign pickup May 1. (Liesbeth Powers/Community Impact Newspaper)
Erica Johnson, a member of the science department at Plano East Senior High, celebrates seniors passing by waving her sign and cowbell in the air at the yard sign pickup May 1. (Liesbeth Powers/Community Impact Newspaper)

Erica Johnson, a member of the science department at Plano East Senior High, celebrates seniors passing by waving her sign and cowbell in the air at the yard sign pickup May 1. (Liesbeth Powers/Community Impact Newspaper)

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A line of cars with seniors and their families wrapped through the parking lots of Plano Senior High School and Plano East Senior High School, leading out onto the street. (Liesbeth Powers/Community Impact Newspaper)
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Farther down the line of teachers, Sara Weatherford, math teacher at Plano East Senior High School, stands in her truck bed, cheering on seniors and making noise with her cowbell. (Liesbeth Powers/Community Impact Newspaper)
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Seniors are welcomed into the parking lot by flag twirler Erin Walker, a special education teacher at Plano Senior High School. Yard signs are then placed in the cars of seniors and their families. (Liesbeth Powers/Community Impact Newspaper)
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Plano ISD trustee Nancy Humphrey places yard signs into the back of a senior's car. Before closing the trunk, she gives a cheer for the student in the car. (Liesbeth Powers/Community Impact Newspaper)
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Students were met with the sound of a drum and a continuous chant by Michael Hernandez, band director at Plano Senior High School. He would also pause to wave at students passing by. (Liesbeth Powers/Community Impact Newspaper)
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Each senior in line at Plano East Senior High School received a senior yard sign to display in their front yards. Each campus has its own colors for the sign. (Liesbeth Powers/Community Impact Newspaper)
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Matt Cone, American Studies teacher at Plano Senior High School, periodically pauses waving to seniors to refill his bubble machine and to pump out more fog from his fog machine in the bed of his truck. (Liesbeth Powers/Community Impact Newspaper)
Plano Senior High School's, Plano East Senior High School’s, and Plano West Senior High School's graduating classes were surprised with parking lots full of teachers, staff and board members cheering for them as they picked up senior yard signs May 1.

This was the first of many senior recognitions the district has planned for the last month of the school year. Each school has planned various virtual and socially distanced activities for seniors, including themed dress-up days, award ceremony videos and social media takeovers. Campuses differ slightly in specific plans and dates for seniors, but each have a number of options planned.

“Our district leadership is very much dedicated to sharing love and showing love for our senior class regardless of what school they're graduating from,” Academy High School Principal Lynn Ojeda said. “We all have some similar plans and a few little surprises... just so that they know that they are loved and appreciated and they are honored and that we missed them, terribly.”

For Plano Senior High senior Vivian Zhao, the possibility of not having a typical graduation is one of the harder things to come to terms with, she said. The district has tentatively set a new graduation date in August, but whether the ceremony will be in person is dependent on COVID-19 case counts, PISD announced in April.

“I just think graduation is such an important moment in your life, and the fact that that may or not be happening in real life—and since it's the last time you get to see a lot of your classmates—is probably the thing that I’m saddest about missing out on,” Zhao said.


Prom was another of the senior’s main events to be canceled due to the coronavirus pandemic. Some campuses are working to postpone or replace the dance with another social gathering.

Academy High School senior Ibrahim Elnomrosy was unable to go to prom last year and had planned to go with a group of friends this year.

“It's kind of tough to plan out everything with your friends and out of nowhere it kind of just gets cut, which is really unfortunate,” he said. “That made us sad since you see in movies and shows, prom is one of the biggest deals, and so it's kind of sad that we didn't [get to] go.”

Missing out on the annual music finale program is a loss for the students involved and those who get to watch and listen to it, Plano Senior High principal Sarah Watkins said. End of the year productions and banquets are all a chance to celebrate senior accomplishments, Ojeda said in agreement.

Each high school has taken to Twitter and Facebook to recognize some senior accomplishments, with shoutouts coming from fellow classmates, teammates, parents and teachers. Both Zhao and Elnomrosy are excited to see what senior social media take over days will look like, they said.

“Honestly, nothing replaces in-person prom or like in-person banquets, but I think they're [Plano ISD is] doing a good job of like, trying to take as many things as they can online,” Zhao said. [It’s] showing seniors that they still care... [and] allows them to be a part of as many traditions as possible.”

Senior parents and trustees David Stolle and Angela Powell have both seen or helped take part in some of the senior tributes so far, they said. While the board of trustees does not directly deal with campus-specific events, it has worked with other district leadership to assist with senior recognition, according to Powell.

“As a district, we are all brainstorming how to make our 2020 graduates feel valued and to be able to celebrate graduation in a meaningful way,” Powell said in an email. “I invite all members of the community to join in celebrating seniors this month... as a community, we can really make these kids feel special.”

Campuses choosing to continue special traditions, such as Plano West Senior High School’s sunrise and sunset tradition, but in a virtual way, is exciting, Stolle said. Innovations such as that will lead to story-worthy memories in the future, he said.

“This pandemic ranges from inconvenient to truly heartbreaking, but when we get through this together, what great stories we will have to tell our grandchildren,” Stolle said in an email.

As students deal with losses and major changes in their lives, finding the good parts are important, Zhao said. Time with family and extra time to be productive are both things Zhao is happy for, she said.

Another important thing to remember is that it is OK, Elnomrosy said.

“'It’s OK that we're going through this,” he said. “It's [missing senior traditions is] not the end of the world, essentially, but it's still it's one of the speed bumps that people have to get through in life. It's OK that we’re all going through this.”

The way that students have handled adjusting to these changes and losses in their senior year has been amazing, Watkins said.

“Even as kids have talked about that [disappointment], they've had that kind of perspective to say, ‘I know it's really not important and that everybody's health is more important," Watkins said. "They may amaze us all the time, and that hasn't stopped.”

Correction: A previous version of this article did not include Plano West Senior High School as one of the schools involved in the May 1 yard sign pickup.
By Liesbeth Powers
Liesbeth graduated from Baylor University with a degree in new media journalism in December 2018. She gained her newspaper experience as a staff writer and multimedia editor at her campus paper, The Baylor Lariat. Liesbeth joined the Community Impact team in August 2019, where she reports on all things Plano and Richardson, including Plano City Council and Dallas Area Rapid Transit.


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