St. Simons Elementary event

St. Simons Elementary hosted a drive-thru graduation for its fifth-grade students on Thursday.

The last day of the 2019-2020 school year, like much of the past couple months, looked much different than anticipated.

Students have been distance learning since March 16, and the final day of the school year ended without much of the usual fanfare.

To mark the end of the year, several schools hosted drive-thru celebrations for their students, including St. Simons Elementary.

Hoping to give their students a sense of closure at the end of the school year, the teachers and administrators at St. Simons Elementary hosted a virtual graduation Wednesday and a drive-thru celebration for the fifth-grade class Thursday evening.

Fifth-graders rode in cars with their families around a designated route that began at Mallery Park, went past the school and ended at First Baptist Church on St. Simons. Teachers, families and other community members were stationed along the route on sidewalks and roadsides, cheering the students on.

“A lot of our students have been at our schools for seven years, since they were four, so it’s a big deal for them to move on the middle school,” said Katy Ginn, principal. “And we just love them and want to wish them the best.”

Ginn played a dual role in the event, as both school principal and the parent of two St. Simons Elementary fifth-graders who will go to Glynn Middle School next year.

The school also wanted to make up for some lost end-of-year traditions, including a walk fifth-graders typically take through the school’s hallways while a staff member rings a bell.

Linda Hardy, assistant principal at St. Simons Elementary, described the end of this school year as bittersweet.

In the past few months, though, she saw the school’s teachers and staff rise to great challenge of quickly transitioning into distance learning.

“Our theme this year was one about superheroes, and we’ve actually seen that come to pass with this online, distance learning,” she said.

From delivering Chromebooks to the homes of families without digital access to working one-on-one with Spanish-speaking families to eliminate any language barriers, the teachers and staff at St. Simons Elementary rose above the call of duty this year, Hardy said.

“It was like building the airplane as you fly it,” she said.

The end of a school year is a milestone the school didn’t want students to miss, Hardy said.

“Most school systems were sort of ending the school year earlier,” she said. “Our teachers persevered and went all the way to the end, and we were happy to give the kids that opportunity to complete the school year.”

Superintendent Virgil Cole, who will soon wrap up his three-year tenure in Glynn County, sent Thursday a message to the school system community.

In his note, he thanked all who work with and for Glynn County Schools and reflected on the unprecedented times during which the school year has ended.

“As we finish the school year, even in the socially distant times we are living in, I want to congratulate each and every one of you,” Cole wrote. “The last few months have definitely been a surreal experience, and I believe they have left an indelible impression on us all.”

Graduations for Glynn Academy and Brunswick High School were originally scheduled to take place Thursday and tonight, but due to the COVID-19 pandemic these events are now planned for later this summer.

Cole said he’s proud to have been a part of the school system team.

“As I approach the end of my time with Glynn County, I am reminded of the many challenges, opportunities and celebrations we have shared together,” he said. “From hurricanes to unprecedented successes, we have continued to show that we are a premier school system.”

Future challenges are on the horizon, including budget impact created by the recent economic shutdown, Cole said.

“However, I am confident that our Board of Education and Dr. (Scott) Spence, along with you, will continue to meet each and every challenge in a manner that will continue to positively build on the best of this historic district,” he said.

Cole has been named superintendent of the Morgan County Charter School System. Spence is set to officially begin July 1.

“The current nature of this pandemic will likely preclude me from properly saying goodbye to everyone,” Cole said. “However, I will end with a simple “thank you.” I was often moved by the work and dedication that I observed daily by teachers, administrators, support staff and volunteers in our system and schools.

“For this, I will be forever indebted, and Glynn County will always have a special place in my heart. Thank you for allowing me to serve you.”

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