DERRY — Eighth-graders in Derry will get a big virtual sendoff as they look forward to what's next in high school.

Due to current pandemic challenges facing area school districts, Derry administrators and staff are planning a big celebration for its two middle schools and their students as they leave eighth grade.

At a school board meeting May 12, middle school administrators gave an update on what this year's promotion ceremony will look like. In past years, each school's ceremony was held at Pinkerton Academy.

With remote learning and virtual challenges, administrators say this year's events will be unique, but very special.

Gilbert H. Hood Middle School Principal Kim Carpentino said a lot of hard work and thought is being put into the plans.

"How do we replace the ceremony, so they can feel proud of themselves," Carpentino said, adding the details include not only the ceremony itself but the many other activities and programs traditionally held at the end of the year.

Carpentino said parent/teacher organizations usually plan special events like breakfasts and other activities for the eighth grade students. Administration takes on the ceremony itself.

For this year's ceremony, West Running Brook Middle School Assistant Principal Mitch Edwards said all are doing their best to make the event special.

Edwards said families of eighth-grade students will receive a letter spelling out details of the ceremony and families will be invited to take a photo of their graduate holding the official promotion certificate that will also be mailed out. Photos will then be used as part of the virtual ceremony.

School staff, including choral and band directors, will also plan special video tributes by students including segments of past videos and current videos created by students themselves.

Administration and schools staff will also include speeches and tributes via video for students as part of the virtual ceremony.

The ceremony will be pre-recorded and families and students can then gather on a set date to view the event, Edwards said.

School district Superintendent MaryAnn Connors-Krikorian said these times are challenging, but she felt students would still be excited about their promotion into high school.

"It's not the true experience," she said, "but it's the next best thing."

In other school board news, Connors-Krikorian announced the Derry district's last day of school is June 5. The original stop date was June 12.

"We have plenty of instructional hours to cover that time period," she said. "Our students, staff and families have worked very hard. I think June 5 is a fair date."

Board members also lauded the staff, students, families and community for support during the remote learning challenges.

"It's a tremendous job by all," said board chairman Derick Anderson. "We truly appreciate the sacrifices from everyone, including community members and the town overall."

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