Our View: School officials look for creative ways to give students their last high school dance

As the state was under a stay-at-home order this time last year, annual spring and summer events were under a cloud of uncertainty.

Among those annual events was prom. For seniors specifically, the annual dance and weekend celebration with friends is something many look forward to during their high school years.

While schools across the state canceled the dance, some non-school-sponsored prom events popped up, but for the most part, seniors lost that part of the high school experience in 2020.

We acknowledge that compared to what else we have lost during the past year, prom may not be what’s top of mind for most. But, as we approach prom season this year, we want to highlight the drive by some administrators to not strip away this rite of passage for students in 2021.

This month, Streator High School officials announced they were trying to put together a comparable event all while keeping students safe.

Their idea? An outdoor prom.

Superintendent Matt Seaton said the district’s COVID-19 response team composed of educators, staff and board members came up with the idea of hosting an outdoor event.

Shortly after Streator High School administrators announced their idea for an outdoor prom earlier this month, they received a number of calls from other educators looking for alternatives for their own annual dance and celebration.

Streator’s plan calls for having a DJ underneath a tent in front of the school’s front entrance. The open sidewalk area would serve as a dance floor and the street in front of the school would be closed to provide space to social distance.

Tables will be spaced out along the street for couples to sit and social distance guidelines will be in place.

Everyone in attendance will be required to wear a mask.

Seaton joked couples better pick the right date because they won’t be able to dance with anyone else in attendance.

“That has to be the rule,” Seaton said. “The assumption is they will have already been exposed to their date.”

Nearby Woodland High School officials are taking it a step further by testing students twice for COVID-19 leading up to the event.

The prom will be hosted at Woodland High School and attendees may eat with their date at tables spread out among the courtyard, small gym and large gym.

Dancing will be allowed as normal.

Both schools are working with local health departments to coordinate the events safely.

DeKalb High School Principal James Horne said that the new guidelines have changed discussion from holding prom virtually to in-person.

“We are restrained by the number of people we are able to have, and we are planning to hold prom indoors because of variables with the weather,” he said. “We are prioritizing our seniors … because they did not have a prom at the end of the year last year, and this is their last chance to have a prom.”

An interest survey will be sent out to select the day of prom and indoor activities.

“(Prom) is going to look very different,” Horne said. “Typically we have about 700 students that attend prom, there’s a big meal and a dance floor. We do have to ensure social distancing. Meals will most likely not be a part of it, but there will be an activity to get our students out, to get them to celebrate, to have an opportunity to dress up and to have that last experience as seniors.”

The initial plan for prom is to have it take place at DeKalb High School in the field house, gym and cafeteria.

School Board President Sarah Moses said that the plans are “really exciting for the kids.”

“This gives them something to look forward to,” she said.

There are more examples of alternative proms across Shaw Local markets. We are happy to see as news spread, the ideas gained momentum and now many schools are considering options.

The pandemic is not over. And it would be simple for administrators to just cancel the dance out of a concern for safety.

But just as we saw last year with drive-thru graduations, and many other events, education leaders continue creating new ways to provide students a memorable high school experience.