Press Release: Laurel Springs School Hosts First-Ever Online Graduation Ceremony, Virtual Prom

Accredited online private school organizes virtual celebrations as traditional year-end events are cancelled due to COVID-19 crisis

WEST CHESTER, Pa. —  Laurel Springs School, a leading pioneer in online K-12 education, held virtual National Honor Society (NHS) and National Junior Honor Society (NJHS) inductions, a graduation ceremony, and prom as part of its Year-End Celebrations from Wednesday, June 3, to Friday, June 5. Due to the COVID-19 crisis, the events were moved online, although they are traditionally held in-person and were originally slated this year for Anaheim, California. 
An induction ceremony for NHS and NJHS was held on Wednesday, June 4, with Laurel Springs leadership live-streaming speeches. The school’s NHS and NJHS Chapter student leaders addressed inductees about the pillars associated with membership: scholarship, service, leadership, character, and citizenship. Current and graduating members were also recognized and honored.

Members of the Class of 2019 celebrate their graduation from Laurel Springs last year.

Laurel Springs then celebrated the Class of 2020 during a virtual graduation ceremony on Thursday, June 4. The event featured addresses from both school and Student Government leadership as well as a commencement speech from astronaut, chemist, and emergency physician Anna Lee Fisher. Graduates were recognized and music was live-streamed via Zoom while celebratory banner and yard sign templates, graduation gifts, diploma cases, and caps and gowns were sent to graduates in advance to complete their at-home commemorations.
“You have reached an important milestone, and now it is time for you to lead the charge into a world that none of us can predict—you have already proven you have the aptitude and strength to shine a light on a path to the future,” said Megan O’Reilly Palevich, M.Ed., Head of School at Laurel Springs, in her address to graduates. “It is up to you to teach the rest of us how to follow your lead.”
Days after SpaceX and NASA launched astronauts into space from U.S. soil for the first time since 2011, Fisher delivered the commencement speech at the graduation ceremony. The “First Mother in Space” provided graduates with a checklist of reminders to keep with them throughout their lives, including that all people are a part of “Spaceship Earth.” 

Dr. Anna Lee Fisher delivers the commencement speech for the Class of 2020 at Laurel Springs.

“With the advent of space tourism with Virgin Galactic, SpaceX, and Blue Origin, I am hopeful that as more people get to see the earth from the same vantage point as astronauts have been privileged to see, more people will realize [that] we are all more alike than we are different, and that we are citizens of this beautiful ‘Spaceship Earth,’” she said. 
Fisher finished her speech by recognizing that graduates are prepared for a lifetime of success thanks to their education.
“As a Laurel Springs graduate, you can indeed accomplish what you set out to do,” she said. “With the pandemic, all of our lives have been turned upside down, but in a strange twist of fate, you are perhaps among the best prepared to adapt to this new set of circumstances.” 
“I can confidently say that nobody is more equipped to face what lies ahead than Laurel Springs School’s Class of 2020,” said Palevich. “The world needs you. Now, more than ever before, it needs people who are thinkers, people who are globally minded, and it needs people who are willing to take the first step.”
To close the week’s celebrations, Laurel Springs students were invited to enjoy a virtual prom on Friday, June 5. Leading up to the event, students participated in a prom background contest based on the theme, “Prom at Home.” Prom-night festivities included a “red carpet” greeting for students, live-streamed music and visual effects from a DJ, and virtual rooms where students could hang out and play games. 
“Our student Prom Committee worked hard to bring the fun of an in-person prom to our students’ homes,” said Rachelle Wafer, Student Engagement Manager at Laurel Springs. “With all that is going on around us, Laurel Springs is happy to provide students with a sense of normalcy and camaraderie.”
To learn more about events and socialization at Laurel Springs, please click here.

A Letter to the Class of 2020 from Manasi Simhan, Graduating Senior

Manasi Simhan is a graduating senior of the Class of 2020, and she is planning to attend the University of Wisconsin. Her involvement in the Laurel Springs student community has been invaluable!
Dear Class of 2020,
It’s almost graduation day. To many, this is a day of excitement, relief, and TONS of college gear—something that I, myself, have been looking forward to since my freshman year of high school.
Traditionally, National College Decision Day is May 1st, but it was definitely a little different from the past. With the current events occurring worldwide, almost half of the country’s colleges made the choice to extend decision day to at least June 1st of this year, giving students the flexibility necessary to make the most suitable arrangements for their future. As a current senior, I understand why this is a stressful situation. Not being able to tour the colleges you have been accepted into and not knowing whether you will be able to physically study at your school in the fall can leave a lot of questions unanswered—I completely get it. It’s a confusing time for all of us.
But wait—don’t go losing all hope! I also know just how hard each and every senior worked to be here today. You’ve probably dealt with more than a few late-night cram sessions and likely felt stressed over an exam or two, but you’re still alive, and you should be proud of that. The lessons, classes, assessments, standardized tests, and the endless mountain of work you have toiled and struggled through over the past four years has finally paid off, culminating in graduation and a college decision.
Now, I know that deciding on your future may seem daunting, and you may even want to pull out all your hair (I definitely almost did), but just know that the choice you make is one that you should be proud of, regardless of what anyone says. Why? Because you’re awesome and you survived high school. It’s as simple as that!
To all you parents and teachers out there: On behalf of the Laurel Springs class of 2020, I just want to thank you for always being there for us and dealing with us, through the best of times and worst of times. We are eternally grateful for all you have done for us over the past four years of high school!
To the class of 2020, I would like to leave you with these parting words:
You have put in the work over the past four years to be here. You have earned the grades, survived the standardized tests, and likely even participated in a plethora of extracurriculars. So what does this mean? You have proven yourself to be smart, capable, and worthy of whatever path you choose to follow in the future. Whether you have accepted a school, are still deciding, have chosen to take a gap year, or gone into the workforce and followed your passion, congrats on getting to this point.

Be proud. Smile. Take a deep breath. You’re almost there.

Manasi SimhanIn the words of Dr.Seuss:
You have brains in your head.
You have feet in your shoes.
You can steer yourself
any direction you choose.
Be your name Buxbaum or Bixby or Bray
Or Mordecai Ali Van Allen O’Shea,
You’re off to Great Places!
Today is your day!
Your mountain is waiting.
So…get on your way!

Good luck in all of the adventures that lie ahead!
Webinar Recap: Well-Balanced Perspective on College Fit with Dr. Denise Pope

Denise PopeParents and children often have different definitions of success when it comes to college. To promote a balance between the two perspectives, Laurel Springs offered a webinar with Dr. Denise Pope, who discussed what research has shown to be most important when considering what college to attend. Participants learned practical strategies to help reduce unnecessary pressure around the college admissions process and ways to support their student’s overall well-being and readiness for life in college and beyond.

Dr. Pope is a Senior Lecturer at the Stanford University Graduate School of Education, where she specializes in these qualitative research methods, as well as student engagement, curriculum studies, and service learning. She is the founder of Challenge Success, an organization that partners with schools, families, and communities to bring about a more healthy approach to the college admission process.

A Difference of Perspective

When asked to define success, parents had a more intrinsic view based on the feelings of satisfaction, wellness, and the strength of relationships. Students, on the other hand, put more extrinsic goals at the top of the list, such as money, grades, and what school they attend. So, it’s only natural that these are the top worries they have as well.

The Pressures of College Admissions

Not only do students feel pressured to get good grades, especially in their junior year of high school, but they feel this is the only way they will get into a good school, get a good job, and lead a good life. This pressure is also weighed down by worries of fitting in, leaving home, and feeling as though they are being compared to others. All of this weight leads to increased stress, anxiety, depression, and narrows their vision on what it takes to truly succeed.
If this stress wasn’t enough, the pressure is on even more now that more people are applying to college, making the competition to gain a coveted seat at their chosen university even stronger. Plus, tuition is higher than ever, but there’s more uncertainty about finding a job after graduation with the current economy, which all equates to greater—you guessed it—stress.

Are College Rankings Even Relevant?

Turning back to the root of the problem: attending the “good” school. What makes it good? Many families rely on certain rankings that define the quality of different schools. Whether it’s a parent’s alma mater, has Ivy League status, or rates high on a published list of top schools, the pressure to attend one of these organizations is equally as high. However, Dr. Pope and her team have discovered the metrics used to rank these schools are not accurate indicators of quality or student outcome. In fact, one of the main factors in finding the right college is to find the right FIT.

Finding the Right Fit

There’s a lot more to a school than its published rank. Being accepted to a college is not as important as performing well while attending. This is why student engagement in any chosen school is more important than rank. Schools that offer more engaging opportunities, such as mentorships, internships, and more real-life experiences are shown to have more encouraged, invested, and thriving students.
To be engaged, students need to be ready—and not just academically. Besides all the pressures already discussed, college is a big change. Students need to have the social, emotional, and life skills to make it through. Here’s where parents can really make a difference. Instead of adding to the pressure, they can help shape readiness by allowing their kids ample recreational time, downtime, and family time. Let them ask for help, learn from their mistakes, take on chores, work outside the home, make their own appointments, communicate their feelings, and take the lead on applying for the college they want to attend—not the one parents wish they would. When students define their own success, it’s easier for them to find the joy in learning and discovering where they fit best in the world.

How Does Laurel Springs Support Dr. Denise Pope’s Research?

The Laurel Springs Counseling Department supports Dr. Pope’s research by encouraging our students and their families to think about their personal values and college preferences when building their balanced college list. Our updated Upper School Seminar course curriculum upholds this approach by integrating targeted lessons, assignments, and projects that encourage students to explore their personal values and refine their college and career preferences.
These courses include the college and career planning tool, Naviance, which further enhances the college and career planning experience. By collaborating with their Laurel Springs College Counselors and working in their Seminar course, students will learn about their strengths, skills, and abilities, and in turn identify colleges and universities that will best fit their goals and needs.
Alyssa Polakowski, Laurel Springs School Counseling Manager, has this to say about Dr. Pope’s research:

The research that Dr. Pope shared with us in her presentation affirmed the approach that our College Counselors take in working with their students. In hearing from Laurel Springs alumni, we believe that students are happiest and most successful at the post-secondary level when they have taken the time to do thoughtful research into colleges and universities of interest. We have seen a trend in students planning to apply to a large number of institutions and we hope that they will heed Dr. Pope’s advice in carefully creating a balanced list of colleges to apply, where they believe they will be able to excel academically, personally, and socially.