New Paltz residents may have noticed maroon lawn signs popping up in yards, windows and porches emblazoned with the message: “Proud Home of New Paltz High School Senior, Class of 2020!”
These signs were the brainchild of PTSA president Renée Falanga-Brenner, PTSA member Cathy Sanchez and school board member Teresa Thompson. The three felt that this graduation class needed some recognition in the midst of a global pandemic. “Something needed to be done,” said Thompson, who also started a Facebook page called Celebrating the New Paltz High School Class of 2020, where she posts pictures and announcements about where or what soon-to-be-graduates will be doing in the fall.
“Everyone has been feeling so sad about everything going on, and people started posting ideas about what Southern schools had been doing for their seniors, because those schools get out earlier than ours,” Thompson explained. One of these ideas was to design and print lawn signs for the graduates to stake out their academic achievement.
“The PTSA raises money all year, and with so much being canceled, they decided to take on the expense of having the signs made,” said Thompson. “PDQ gave us a great deal on them, and Cathy Sanchez designed them.”
How would the signs be delivered? That’s when these spirited and involved mothers decided to turn it into a party – with masks and all. “We decided to set something up at the high school and make sure that we were social distancing and had our masks and gloves,” said Thompson. They encouraged parents and students to come out this past Wednesday to the high-school parking lot, where Sanchez had music playing, Thompson and her husband Doug, owners of the Main Street Bistro, had tents set up, and some people put together goodie bags and balloons. When the students drove up, they’d put the signs in their trunk. “A lot of teachers came, and community members, parents and students, and it was a great day. Everyone was so happy to see each other, and I think it really speaks to the strength of the New Paltz community that we don’t want these kids to be left behind this year.”
Out of 194 graduates, 135 signs were picked up that day. Maureen Ryan, the school district’s head of transportation, and an assistant spent Monday morning delivering the rest of the signs to the students’ homes.
Christina Rust, the senior class treasurer, and her dad helped pass out the signs and greet students and parents as they pulled up. “The PTSA really put the whole thing together. The senior officers were just excited to support the event and get the word out to other students that this was happening,” said Rust.
What has it been like to be a senior in high school during a global pandemic? “It’s been stressful,” replied Rust. “I think it’s a stressful time to begin with, but this situation has heightened it.”
She believes that the crisis has brought the class together in a way that didn’t exist prior to school being shut down over public-health fears. “There’s been a lot more interaction between class officers and advisors than there was before. Everyone is so eager to come up with ideas and ways to stay connected, and I personally feel honored to represent this class that is so passionate and loving.”
Rust said that students and parents were really touched by the gesture. It meant so much to them.
Colleen Erazo, a single mother of NPHS senior Alexis Erazo, 17, said that she found the event emotional. “It was a sign of hope. With everything that we’ve been going through – having the school closed down until the end of the year, not having those milestones of Senior Ball or graduation, and struggling with how I tell my kid that – I felt emotional when we pulled up and I got to see so many people that were going through the same thing. It was really a sign of hope that we were not going to let these students go unrecognized.”
Erazo and her daughter were so touched by the work of Falanga-Brenner, Sanchez and Thompson that Alexis made her own sign thanking the PTSA and faculty members. “It was so great for the kids to be able to see some of their favorite teachers.”
The Erazos live in an apartment building on Henry W. Dubois Drive. Erazo said she put her sign in the window. “I grew up in New Paltz and a lot of people know me and Alexis, and there isn’t a day that goes by without people honking their horn when they pass the sign. That feels good.”
Erazo, who works with students in off-campus housing, said that she was proud of her daughter. “Her father passed away when she was seven years old, and it hasn’t always been easy, but she’s an incredible girl.”
These sentiments were echoed by Kimberly Adams, a single parent of two adopted children with Down syndrome, who works at Albany Medical Center as a CAT scan technician. “My daughter Judy wasted no time getting that sign in the lawn!” she said with a laugh. “She was ecstatic.”
When Adams’ friend Falanga-Brenner told her about the event, she wanted to surprise her daughter. “I told her that I had to make an appointment for the car, and when we were there [at Tom’s Auto Repair, directly across from the high school], I said, ‘What’s going on over there? Why are there so many cars? Do you want to check it out?’”
Judy was enthralled. “There was so much noise and commotion and music and cars honking their horns and people cheering and waving,” she said.
A survey was been sent out by the school to parents and students asking them what type of graduation they’d like to see, given all of the unknown variables that stem from the health crisis. “We have to have a plan A, B, C and D,” said Thompson. “We just don’t know what we will be able to do, which is why we put out the survey.”
Will there be a virtual graduation? A socially distanced graduation? A split-shift graduation? A parade of senior floats down Main Street? The graduation survey that was sent out to students and guardians had to be completed by this past Sunday at midnight. Now a team of student officers, administrators, faculty members and likely representatives of the school board and PTSA will get together to pour through the results and come up with some novel ideas for the novel corona virus times we’re living in.
If you have a student whom you would like recognized for what their plans are post-high school, send a picture and a bio to Teresa Thompson, who administers the Facebook page.
The Class of 2020 is getting ready to wind up their arms and throw those caps into the air one way or another. Honk for the NPHS Class of 2020 when you see a sign!