HAVERHILL — The city's eighth graders have won the battle to have in-person, moving-on celebrations in place of drive-through events that were originally planned.

School Superintendent Margaret Marotta said that members of the school community were clear in their desire to celebrate eighth graders moving on together as a group and now that the city has moved into the state's green, low-risk category for being exposed to COVID-19, it opens the door to outdoor gatherings.

"People can bring their own chairs and blankets and the events will be informal, but will be an opportunity for families to celebrate as a community," she said.

Last month, John Greenleaf Whittier Middle School eighth graders Boston Alvino and Rosalynn Acevedo-Torres asked Marotta to rethink the eighth-grade graduation plans. Instead of holding drive-though events, the two asked for something more personal, in the form of indoor or outdoor gatherings for students and their families.

"We all agree that though the drive-through promotion may be better than nothing, we believe that we deserve something more appropriate that would be a nicer conclusion to our time in middle school," Boston said in a letter to Marotta, Mayor James Fiorentini and the School Committee.

The two girls said Marotta responded by saying there wasn't enough time to organize such an event. The students disagreed.

They are now elated to know their wishes will come true.

"We're really excited and can't wait," Boston said on Wednesday. "I talked about it with kids in my class and they are all happy. I'm happy that we pushed for this and that the superintendent changed her mind."

 

The two girls had also taken their campaign to the School Committee, noting they had collected more than 380 signatures.

School Committee member Maura Ryan-Ciardiello, whose son is graduating from Whittier Middle School, signed the petition and also advocated for something more than drive-through, moving on events.

Mayor James Fiorentini went to bat for the students as well, asking Marotta if there was anything more she could do to satisfy the wishes of students and parents.

Ryan-Ciardiello said parents are elated with Marotta's decision.

"I'm happy that the superintendent was able to make some last-minute changes and that she understood how meaningful these events will be for students and parents," Ryan-Ciardiello said. "I've already received many text messages and emails from parents who told me they are thrilled with the decision."

At Whittier Middle School, eighth graders will celebrate their graduation on June 17 at 6 p.m. with an outdoor ceremony. 

"Feel free to bring your own picnic blankets, lawn chairs, or stand," Whittier Principal Tim Betty told families Tuesday night in an email. "We ask that you please maintain physical distancing from other families."

He also told parents that his school's end-of-the-year bash for eighth graders will be held the morning of June 18, which is the last day of school.

At that event, eighth graders will receive their yearbooks and celebrate with games, a dunk tank, Kona Ice truck and a yearbook signing.

The city's other three middle schools are expected to hold similar events next week as well.

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