After 13 years, former Elgin teacher Delia Perez Meyer was able to reconnect with four of the students from her first kindergarten class in 2007.
Meyer, now retired, got her first teaching position in Elgin in 2003 and taught here for 14 years. She taught a variety of grades, but she describes kindergarten as her “niche” and spent most of her teaching career with kindergarten students.
These students from her first kindergarten class in Elgin are now about to graduate high school and move on to the next stage in their education during a time of uncertainty for all graduating seniors in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. After reminiscing with her students over lunch, Meyer was able to see how far her students had come and the people they had grown up to be: Edith Plancarte has just completed a degree in business administration from an online college, Kayla Arines plans to enlist in the navy, Leslie Suazo is headed to the University of North Texas, and Ruben Vega will go on to study at Austin Community College.
“It just brought back a flood of wonderful memories,” Meyer said. “I was very proud of them and their accomplishments. You always get a sense of satisfaction that you did a good job teaching them, and that they did a great job learning and applying their knowledge to be able to to make it through high school and on to college. ... They’ve all grown up to be wonderful, loving and respectful adults.”
Meyer was able to reconnect with these students through the Elgin Adopt a 2020 Senior Facebook group, which was started by a group of parents who had already been working together on Project Celebration, according to Stephanie Lippke, the parent of a senior graduating from Elgin High School this year. When the COVID-19 pandemic shut down the schools, the parents began looking for ways to celebrate their seniors.
In the Adopt A Senior group, profiles of each participating student is posted to the group, including information such as what they had accomplished in school and their plans after high school. Then, people interested in adopting a student can coordinate with the student or their parents to give them gifts, graduation cards and other signs of encouragement.
As part of the Adopt A Senior program, Meyer gave her students donations towards their college expenses, as well as gift cards to help them buy household items as they prepare for dorm life.
“For me, personally, more than anything I wanted to connect with them on an educational level,” she said.
Senior parents are also encouraging the community to show their support in other ways, such as by installing purple light bulbs on houses and businesses in Elgin. Last month, when it looked like the Class of 2020 wouldn’t get an in-person graduation, a group of parents also worked to try and get the school district and the city to help them put on a senior parade for the graduates, where everyone would remain in their cars and stay socially-distanced as seniors and their families drove by. However, this effort fell through after the Western Days and Juneteenth parades were canceled earlier this month; according to an announcement from the city about these festivals released on May 2, holding and properly managing parades in Elgin would present a significant challenge for the city and the police department, given their current demands and resources. Additionally, the city would likely not authorize any large gathering of people for a parade through the month of June.
Currently, Elgin ISD plans to hold an in-person graduation either Friday evening, June 5 or Saturday morning, June 6, with limited attendance and a livestream of the ceremony online.
Lippke and Charlotte Johnson, another parent of an Elgin graduating senior, have seen the way the COVID-19 situation has affected their daughters when the pandemic caused school to be closed and events to be canceled. Johnson said her daughter, Madison Osborne, has been disheartened by missing out on senior year activities.
“We just want to be able to lift them up and say, ‘this does not define what your life is going to be,’” Johnson said. “It’s always going to be better. They’re resilient.”
Lippke said there’s a lot of uncertainty right now, but it’s easier to know that everyone else is having similar problems and worries. Her daughter, Bella, said she held out hope for a long time, thinking the situation would blow over and she would be able to go back to school. When it set in that the school closure would not end anytime soon, it made her upset, but initiatives like Adopt A Senior encouraged her and made her feel like people cared about her and her classmates.
“Something that I could never possibly plan for or think would happen, happened, and the major thing you’re looking towards in high school gets taken away in an instant,” Bella Lippke said. “I felt lost for a long time because I didn’t really know how to feel and where to go, because there’s no plans of moving forward.”
Meyer said Adopt A Senior is important for this year’s graduates because they weren’t able to experience their last semester of school and everything that includes.
“It was really important for all of us … that we show them that we care, and that we’re proud of them and their accomplishments, and that we’re excited for their bright futures,” she said.
The organizers of the Elgi n Adopt A 2020 Senior project are looking to reach more graduating students who are not yet listed in their group. Anyone who wishes to get involved or make sure a senior is included in the program can contact Stephanie Lippke at 12-228-6562 or firstname.lastname@example.org.