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James Hart Middle School reunion gives class of 2020 farewell

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The James Hart School in Homewood likes to foster something of a family for its students.

Even after the eighth grade class graduates each year at the middle school, the district encourages the students to remain close, to remember their class. To this end, the school hosts a goodbye celebration when they graduate and then again, four years later, as they graduate high school.

The ceremonies help renew and strengthen friendships as a community bond, panthers until the end, officials said.

The homecoming tradition began in 2015 and it’s become something of a fun district tradition, said Homewood Elementary District 153 Superintendent Scott McAlister.

“It’s actually something we’ve done in previous years,” he explained. “We’d invite back students graduating high school back for a final farewell.”

The tradition continued until 2020, the year COVID-19 erupted, isolation was mandated and social events, like the school’s homecoming, were canceled. For these students, McAlister noted, the whole end of their middle school years was met by a hard new reality classes became online only. Suddenly, school friends were separated, and they would remain so for the rest of the year.

Because graduation canceled and the usual end-of-the-year ceremonies nixed, the class of 2020 didn’t get a send-off. So, district officials took extra care to make this year’s homecoming happen. On May 24, the students and staff made it happen.

Kendall Ellis, a Homewood-Flossmoor High School graduate, points to a bulletin board during his return May 24, 2024, to the James Hart Middle School in Homewood. (Elementary District 153)

Elementary District 153

Kendall Ellis, a Homewood-Flossmoor High School graduate, points to a bulletin board during his return May 24, 2024, to the James Hart Middle School in Homewood. (Elementary District 153)

McAlister said the high school seniors appeared more eager than most to make up lost time. The 2020 graduating class included about 100 students, and he said the homecoming turnout was great — a sign of its importance.

“It was probably the biggest turnout in all the years we’ve done these,” McAlister said. “Partially I think because they had their middle school experience cut short and were able to see their teachers.”

McAlister said this group of students was not the last to be affected by COVID-19. The class the following year met online as well, and the year after that was mostly masked. He said these emotional class reunions will continue.

“No doubt, we’re going to see this for a handful of years,” he said.

But the 2020 class was the test run, the students who could show whether emergency plans worked, how well they worked and where any blind spots lay and they made it.

McAlister said their resiliency showed as this year, four years on, the students were graduating high school, the same as anyone else who came before them, some bound for higher education and some the workforce.

Members of the James Hart Middle School Class of 2020 reminisce May 24, 2024, during a reunion to make up for their eighth grade celebrations being curtailed by the COVID-19 pandemic. (Elementary District 153)

Elementary District 153

Members of the James Hart Middle School Class of 2020 reminisce May 24, 2024, during a reunion to make up for their eighth grade celebrations being curtailed by the COVID-19 pandemic. (Elementary District 153)

The superintendent said so far as the district’s been able to track, these students avoided the worst impacts of COVID learning, and he congratulated them for overcoming those obstacles.

“I mentioned to them there’s a lot of discussion of the impact COVID had in terms of earnings and social and emotional health, but as I mentioned to these kids, COVID didn’t have a huge impact on their progress in school,” he said.

McAlister said students had a chance to grab a microphone and tell their friends, teachers and administrators their post-high school plans and how much their time at James Hart meant, along with the theme of overcoming challenges and succeeding despite the difficult circumstances.

“I think the tone was the idea of resiliency,” McAlister said. “These kids were able to overcome something none of us had to when we were their age. It was a great day for everyone.”

Jesse Wright is a freelance reporter for the Daily Southtown.



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