By Stefanie Jackson – The Eastern Shore community has found a new way to show love and support for its graduating high school seniors in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic.
High school seniors have been missing out in 2020, with proms and graduation ceremonies canceled due to COVID-19.
But parents and community members like Jessica Lewis, of Chincoteague, are finding ways to show support for graduates online, where social distancing rules are irrelevant.
Lewis was inspired by a Facebook user who used the social media platform to get members of the community to “adopt” seniors and give them things they will need as they prepare to attend college or technical school or pursue a career.
Accomack schools superintendent Chris Holland approved of the project, and Lewis created the public Facebook group, Adopt a Chincoteague High School Senior 2020. Within one week, all 53 seniors were adopted.
Finding people to adopt the Chincoteague seniors was easy because “everyone kind of knew everyone” in the close-knit community, Lewis said. It was one of the reasons Lewis was inspired to do the project.
“Our community is pretty strong together,” she said.
After parents suggested Lewis include nearby Arcadia High School, she contacted Principal Shaun O’Shea.
O’Shea gave Lewis permission to create a public Facebook group for Arcadia seniors. Due to privacy law, he was not allowed to share the class roster, but parents worked together to make sure no one was left out.
If any student or parent did not have a Facebook account, another family member, friend, or community member would “reach out on their behalf,” Lewis said.
About 500 Facebook members joined the Arcadia group. A photo of each graduating senior was posted, along with a description of the student’s academic and extracurricular interests and the items needed most.
As of May 19, 55 of 166 Arcadia seniors were posted and adopted.
Some students created Amazon wish lists and received gifts by mail. Some sponsors delivered gifts in person. Dorm supplies and gift cards for retail stores, food, and gas were among the items the students have received, Lewis said.
Business owner Karen Trader, who makes custom-printed T-shirts, buttons, and other products, randomly selected two seniors from Arcadia (and later Northampton), and each received 10 personalized graduation buttons.
Arcadia athletic director Chelsea Sharp and Chincoteague parent Amy Thomas have offered photography services at little to no cost to students who had missed the opportunity to have senior portraits made.
After seeing the Facebook groups for Chincoteague and Arcadia seniors, Northampton High School basketball coach Wayne Bell Jr. reached out to Lewis about adding a group for Northampton seniors.
Bell and Access College Foundation advisor Devin Allen pitched in to get the word out to students.
As of May 19, 34 of 98 Northampton High School seniors were posted and adopted.
Another Facebook user, Patricia Lee, of Painter, followed Lewis’ example and created a public group for Nandua High School seniors, which also has about 500 members.
Her son is a rising senior at Nandua High School. “I know he will be devastated if he doesn’t get the walk the stage,” she said.
“I wanted people to show the seniors love, and appreciate and gift them for their accomplishments.
“I wanted to let them know that despite what’s going on, they did in fact reach a major milestone and they deserve to be recognized.”
More than 60 Nandua High School seniors have been adopted.
To adopt a senior or post a profile of a senior who hasn’t yet been adopted, join one or more of the public Facebook groups: Adopt an Arcadia High School Senior 2020, Adopt a Chincoteague High School Senior 2020, Adopt a Northampton High School Senior 2020, or Nandua High Adopt a Senior c/o 2020.
For more information, contact Jessica Lewis at 757-894-2807.