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My heart goes out to every one of our seniors who are missing the final quarter of their high-school days together. The physical separation is really taking a toll on their spirit, and I hear from them every day.
I have met with our senior-class officers to get their input on how we proceed with traditional senior events. They also joined in a discussion with our superintendent and, overwhelmingly, students want these events to be as traditional as possible, with face-to-face ceremonies, but they do understand and accept that virtual celebrations may need to occur if the end date for social gatherings does not come at a reasonable time.
Many of our students will be going into the military or to early college or professional training abroad that limits our ability to postpone too far into the future.
On May 21, DeLand High School distributed graduation caps and gowns, tassels, honor cords, and other memorabilia in a drive-up celebration that had a pep-rally atmosphere to include teachers and staff wishing our seniors well while seniors remained in their decorated cars and received their items through the car window.
On May 28, we held a virtual honors night. Students were highlighted in a live online ceremony that their family or friends were able to view from anywhere.
Beautiful banners were erected in Downtown DeLand June 8 to celebrate our 2020 graduates. This was made possible thanks to the generosity of Mainstreet Community Bank and the collaborative spirit of the City of DeLand. We are grateful for their support. The banners will hang throughout the month of June leading up to our graduation ceremony.
Our school yearbooks have been delayed at the manufacturing plant but we expect delivery in mid-June. We will be hosting a drive-up yearbook-distribution event before the end of June, for seniors first.
At 12:30 p.m. Thursday, July 9, DeLand High will hold its commencement ceremony at the Ocean Center to fulfill the tradition of students crossing the stage in their cap and gown. More information on this event is available at www.delandhs.org/seniors.
We love our seniors, and we want them to know that while they’ll always remember this disappointing time in their life, they will be the generation that doesn’t take anything for granted. They will become adults who will teach the world the meaning of true appreciation and the value of relationships. We will see greatness from the Class of 2020.

— Dr. Melissa Carr

Editor’s note: At the end of what must be one of the most unusual years ever at DeLand High School, Principal Dr. Melissa Carr answers some questions about online learning and the Class of 2020.

Q. First, please give us a few details. What was the DeLand High student population this school year? How many teachers? How many (approximately) seniors are graduating?

A. DeLand High enrolled 2,780 students with 180 total staff members that included teachers, paraprofessionals and support staff. The class of 2020 has 627 seniors.

Q. It seemed almost overnight that Volusia County Schools converted from in-person, in-classroom to 100-percent virtual. How did you navigate that change for DeLand High? How did it go?

A. Shortly after our return from the winter break, I was paying attention to national news regarding the possible implication that COVID would have on public education.

From past experience in the world of online learning, I was putting procedures and tools in place to assist our students and staff in any form of transition that awaited all of us. For example, our teachers already had an online-collaboration tool for archiving meeting notes, sharing lesson plans, and messaging one another.

Moving these meetings from face-to-face to virtual was seamless for our staff. We began immediately with prerecorded guided help tutorials for any staff member who needed it. The district curriculum staff worked around the clock to provide schools with online courses ready to go for teachers to take over the reins and begin leading students from home.

A majority of our students adapted well to the online environment. They had weekly and sometimes daily, communication from their teachers.

All students were provided with a free laptop loaner as long as they had access to internet at home. For families without internet access, we worked for days preparing printed coursework for students to pick up.

We utilized surveys, phone calls, website, and social media to communicate to our students all of the resources available.

The district published a very thorough Instructional Continuity Plan (ICP) and set up a hotline and email for families.

Our School Way Café team distributed more than 200 free meals every day during the time of remote instruction, and our counselors contacted every single family to ensure that students were safe, fed, healthy, and keeping up with their schoolwork.

The entire school district came together to take care of one another and our community.

Q. What are the biggest challenges of virtual learning?

A. The No. 1 challenge is physical proximity between teacher and student. Our teachers have expressed very normal frustrations of not being able to reach some students or not having the ability to immediately demonstrate something in real time.

For students, the challenge is the same. They very much missed the face-to-face time with teachers so they can receive immediate feedback on a question or receive help on challenging concepts. Now, teachers and students have to schedule a call or web meeting to dive deeper into each student’s needs.

I believe that when we all return to Bulldog Country, there will be a much greater appreciation of one another.

Q. Can parents and students feel confident that their high-schoolers got what they needed from virtual learning?

A. Every student had a different experience and required different types of support while learning remotely. Students learned how to advocate for themselves by truly engaging in one or more of the multiple pathways for academic support.

Teachers discovered teaching skills they never thought they would need, like hosting a small-group discussion via virtual webinar or working out a math problem on an electronic tablet that was being viewed by students sitting in their own living rooms.

Q. What year did you come on board as principal of DHS? Briefly, what was the career path that got you there?

A. I joined the Bulldogs in the 2017-18 school year. I spent 28 years with Volusia County Schools preparing for this role of a lifetime. I have been a high-school teacher, dance and cheer coach, reading coach, assistant principal, district official for professional development and online learning and technology-innovation director.

I have held National Board Certification as a master teacher and was named Teacher of the Year twice. I have received the District Administrator of the Year award from Phi Delta Kappa and was recognized as a state finalist as Innovative Principal of the Year in 2019.

Q. Do you think this pandemic-driven conversion to the virtual classroom foreshadows a more permanent change in the way we do high school?

A. I believe daily use of these digital tools is increasing teacher and student confidence in their own expertise. As teachers become more comfortable with each tool, I see them getting creative in the ways in which they can present information in a different way or provide feedback for students who are struggling or require enrichment.

These unprecedented times have called into action all the groundwork that was laid over the past five years to reach the vision of our district being future-ready through the use of digital tools, innovative teaching practices, restructuring of support teams and targeted use of the half-cent sales tax to provide technology for students.

When we do return to our classrooms and buildings, our teachers and students will continue to use the digital tools at their disposal, and we’ll find them hungry for more, I suspect.

Our district’s soon-to-be strategic plan should definitely include ways in which we will continue this progress toward a future-ready school system.

Q. What can the community (and/or the local newspaper) do to help you, DeLand High School, and the students?

A. Continue to focus on all the great students and teachers who are rising to the challenge and succeeding every day. Thank you!

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