COOLIDGE — It doesn’t happen very often that the previous year’s graduates make their walk the week after the current class, but the pandemic and its aftermath have created unprecedented situations.
In Coolidge there was a second chance for celebration, as 75 students from the Class of 2020 — about half of them — were able to participate in the formal ceremony that took place last Thursday at Larry Delbridge Stadium.
“Last year at this time you all were hoping for these folks to get this opportunity to walk across the stage,” said Coolidge High School Principal Ben Armstrong. “That didn’t happen. We did not know what we were dealing with and we were trying to put safety first. When an opportunity arose, the class reached out. It’s pretty awesome that we can do this now.”
Armstrong joked that unlike the previous week, he worried what advice, if any, he could give to students who already had their diplomas in hand.
“They are fine young men and women,” Armstrong said. “You guys should be very proud of them.”
CUSD board President Michael Flores praised the students for their resilience and perseverance, having to adjust to a whole new virtual way of learning during the final months of their school year.
“Your graduation may have been delayed by a year, but after all that we have been through together, it makes this day more unique,” Flores said. “You worked hard to earn this. Remember once a Bear, always a Bear!”
Originally, the school had planned for an in-person graduation ceremony during homecoming week last fall. Once that fell through, another opportunity didn’t present itself until the district’s eighth grade promotion ceremony was pushed back, due to a student contracting COVID-19.
Class of 2020 student Kauri Heet credited Principal Armstrong and CUSD board member Diana Guerrero, herself a member of the Class of 2019, for coordinating with the students to plan the event.
“The class did it all together,” Heet said. “It was hard but the school worked to make it happen. It was a lot to put together in such a little amount of time but it was fun to get it all done and the people who wanted to be here came.”
Several students came from as far as Washington state to return to Coolidge for the ceremony. Graduate Tessa Copeland said she came from Vancouver, Washington, getting time off work and that she was happy to walk across the stage that evening.
“Everybody is all grown up,” Copeland said. “It’s good to see happy faces. I know a lot of people are starting their paths now.”
During the ceremony, presenters handed out “personality awards," which ranged from the standard “most athletic” or “best dressed” to more jocular categories such as “always late” or “the couple that never was.”
In her speech to the class, 2020 graduate Kim Mercado asked for a moment of silence for those who died over the past year from COVID-19 and reminded everyone to celebrate the fact that there were many paths beyond just college for recent graduates, including active duty or entering the workforce.
Last week, it was also officially announced that Armstrong would become the new head of CUSD’s Human Resources Department, and that Tres Chapman would be taking over as principal of the high school on June 14. This month, Dawn Dee Hodge also becomes the new CUSD superintendent.
COOLIDGE — The Coolidge Library has come up with a colorful and creative, if imprecise, metric for noting in-person foot traffic as the pandemic wanes. A banner on the front desk for “Tails and Tales,” the library’s summer theme, is slowly being filled in with markers of all colors by visiting students.
That is just one sign of the library’s transition back to regular programming, and this summer features more of a mix of virtual and in-person activities than previous months. However, library assistant Dani Duran says she and her colleagues have gotten better and better at producing videos, such as their weekly “virtual storytelling” and “Quarantime” segments.
“This year was easier than last year,” Duran said of planning for the summer. “Last year was more play by ear, we didn’t know what it would be like. It’s always just easier than the year before, I already know the numbers we need to get ready for, and everybody here is always full of ideas. We have a wealth of information of things to pick from.”
Last week, the library kicked off its summer programming with a drive-thru “kickoff party” at the Kenilworth Sports Complex. The library, in partnership with the Coolidge Fire Department, University of Arizona Cooperative Extension and Pinal County Animal Care and Control, handed out information to over 100 families who came through over the course of an hour.
Duran said the summer learning program will be “jam-packed” with activities, including take-and-make kits, for all ages to participate in.
The kits include feather cat-toys and kite tails that Duran said would be perfect with the recent breezes.
The major live events the library will be hosting include a “pet parade” in San Carlos Park on June 18 and “screening spectacular” July 6, put on by the UA Extension, which will provide dental, hearing, vision and developmental screenings for ages 1-5.
The parade will include new Story Walk posts around the park for the story “Love Tails” by Rob Sayegh Jr. Librarian Megan Carbiener said that the author Sayegh was really excited for his book to be exhibited in the park, and that they’d made QR Codes so that anyone could also listen along with the story posts. The book will be narrated in the park by Duran’s daughter.
Even as the students are encouraged to read for the “tales and tails” theme, their participation in the reading program is also thematically tied in.
Students will have the opportunity to fill out their reading logs, shaped like a peacock feather, and add them to a “naked” peacock on the wall of the children’s section of the library.
Duran said the summer reading program would culminate in a “jamboree” on July 13, with prizes and giveaways, which will be aired live on Facebook.
“We normally have a lot of fun doing the jamboree,” Duran said. “We just start being goofballs.”
The Friends of the Coolidge Library has also helped fund a back-to-school supplies program, where students coming in each week can get items such as note cards and crayons. This week, Duran said staff was giving out pencils and highlighters.
The library tentatively plans to have more in-person events in the fall.
COOLIDGE — At the end of this month, Coolidge Disabled American Veterans Chapter 36 Cmdr. Ronnie Smith is stepping down after four years to accommodate shifting roles in the organization’s leadership.
Smith will take a chapter service officer position after having facilitated the DAV’s move to a larger location on Main Street and the creation of a military museum off of San Carlos Park.
Smith said he welcomed the “fresh new look” from new DAV officers and that he was looking forward to working in the background to help fundraise and get new members.
“I just like the new blood,” Smith said. “The more people helping, the better, and that’s what we are all about.”
Florence native and Army veteran Charles Doremus will be taking over for Smith as the post’s new commander, effective June 30.
“Doremus is very qualified and he’s got lots of good people around him right now,” Smith said.
Smith also praised DAV Treasurer Juan Salas for helping members with classes on technology.
Doremus said he was looking forward to helping veterans, citing an anecdote where a friend of his died from complications dating back to Agent Orange exposure in Vietnam because his paperwork to receive federal aid was never processed.
“I would hope that guys in need come to us,” Doremus said. “Our main objective is to help fill out claims so they can receive the benefits that they have earned. Some gave the supreme sacrifice and I honor that, we all took that same oath. A lot of guys come back who are still suffering.”
Currently, the DAV is looking for more volunteers to help expand the center’s hours of operation. Smith said he also wants to do more to raise awareness of veteran suicides, which Smith said is down from its peak but still happening at the rate of 19 veterans a day.
“The city of Coolidge has been great to us,” Smith said. “They have done fantastic work for the veterans. Mayor (Jon) Thompson and (City Manager) Rick Miller are two fantastic people who’ve got a heart for the veterans.”
Those interested in volunteering can pick up forms from the DAV’s office at 340 S. Main St., which is open from 8 a.m. to noon on Monday, Wednesday and Friday, or at “Coffee with the Commander” every Tuesday morning from 7:30 to 10 a.m.
The DAV can be contacted at 520-484-3293.