Right about the time I found my high school senior at our kitchen table crying over her lost pom team season, I went looking for help.
For a while, we’d held onto hope her senior year could be normal. Then we thought maybe it would be modified but still with shades of normalcy. Now, we know that at least the start of the year for the class of 2021 will be a whole new ballgame (or, as the case may be, no ballgame at all).
I’ve already been the parent of a high school senior, so this isn’t supposed to be my first rodeo, but looking at my weeping daughter, I felt as though I’d never even ridden a horse before. So I posted a question in the Grown and Flown Parents group and on my personal page asking for ideas on how I could make senior year special for my student.
Responses fell into two categories: “following/I want to look for ways to set a positive tone and help my senior have a great, if different, year” (from other parents wondering the same thing I was, possibly while their own seniors sat crying at their kitchen tables) and “we did/we’re doing this,” from 2020 senior parents sharing hard-won wisdom and from 2021 parents ahead of me in the game.
Here, with deepest appreciation for the inspiration, are 21 ideas for creating a senior year for our kids that, while unavoidably different, can still be unmistakably good.
21 Ways to Create an Amazing Year for Your Senior
1. Allow your senior to grieve what’s missing from their year. Putting a positive spin on tough situations for our kids is our parental instinct, and usually that’s a good and helpful thing. But sometimes (and maybe a lot of times this year), we’re going to have to fight the urge to too quickly try to talk our kids out of their feelings and instead sit with them a while in those feelings.
2. Ask your senior if they want you to get creative and look for out-of-the box ways to celebrate them and ramp up their year. Because it is first and foremost exactly that: their year.
3. Assuming your grad-to-be gives you a green light for Operation Senior Year, create a Facebook group with friends, both local and otherwise, who are also class of 2021 parents and supporters. Use it to encourage each other and to share ideas for celebrating your seniors.
4. Adopt a senior. Ask local senior parents (maybe from your Facebook group…see #1, above) to post the name of their student and a few of their favorite things. Participants could surprise adoptees a few times throughout the year, breaking up the list of favorites into smaller packages and including notes of encouragement or college/life advice.
5. Put together 21 small gifts for the first 21 days of school…maybe a favorite snack, a new highlighter, an offer of a doughnut run, slippers, or socks.
6. Assemble remote-learning goodie baskets with snacks, pens and pencils, new pjs, and a few other fun items (a stress ball to combat slow internet, maybe?).
7. Where appropriate, encourage your senior to be proactive in keeping revered senior traditions they care about alive, with all appropriate modifications (masks, social distancing, short and very specific time frames, etc.).
8. Schedule a “the way it is” photo session with face coverings, laptops, masked and socially distanced friends, etc. Coaches and/or marching band directors may even give permission for uniforms to be used.
9. Organize a drive-through “senior sunrise” event. Parents can set up a photo booth and hand out swag bags of snacks, water bottles, gift cards, etc. Seniors can see their friends briefly, take a picture, and get back home or into the building in time for school to start. (One group of parents who did this reported an 85% turnout rate.)
10. Reach out (or support your student if they choose to do the reaching) to coaches (dance team, cheer, et al) or directors (marching band) to see if some performances normally tied to football games can happen in other settings. Pep band at cross country? Pom or cheer exhibitions to welcome elementary students to school?
11. Support senior traditions with modifications: senior parade and breakfast with boxed meals and all the high school staff cheering in the parking lot as students parade through, for example.
12. Help your senior decorate their spot in your driveway at home rather than their school parking space (or in addition to it).
13. Put some senior signage up on your lawn. If you’re uncomfortable advertising specifics about your student or posting a photo, you can always go with “an amazing 2021 senior lives here” or simply “Team 2021.”
14. Decorate your son’s or daughter’s bedroom door for first day of school (wherever and whenever it’s happening) with school-color streamers and balloons.
15. Use window markers to decorate your class of 2021 kid’s car. (Word to the wise: do your handiwork on the inside of the windows if you’re able…I once watched an hour’s worth of birthday widow decor get washed away during a rainstorm in the time it took to pull out of the driveway.)
16. Order a custom “proud parent of a 2021 senior” t-shirt.
17. Coordinate with other local parents to set up socially-distanced “study pods” for small groups of students. Academic support plus social interaction can play a huge role in safeguarding your student’s mental health.
18. Host an at-home outdoor lunch group if your senior is doing virtual learning. Students in your neighborhood can bring their lunch to your house a couple days a week, eat and talk together for an hour or so, then head back home to resume school.
19. Query your school and community about a new-year kick-off car parade starting and ending at your high school. Many districts did something similar to send off their seniors last spring, but it would also be a celebratory way to start a year that is in so many ways unlike any other.
20. Throw a small-scale “faux-co” Homecoming alternative on your street or in your driveway or back yard.
21. Celebrate everything you possibly can, and hold fiercely to hope.
Every family needs to find their own way
Of course different ideas will work in different situations and for different families. Of course safe practices come first. Of course—again—we need to find out if our seniors even want us to move forward with the possibilities we’re so excited about.
But in the middle of all the unknowns, we’ll be driven as always by what we do know; we believe in our seniors, we’re proud of them, and we love them like crazy.