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Conard and Hall Seniors to Experience Prom, In-Person Graduation, and Other Traditions

Hall Senior Prom. June 1, 2019. Photo courtesy of Liz Kerrigan (we-ha.com file photo)

Plans are being finalized for the Class of 2021 at West Hartford’s two public high schools to experience traditional end-of-the-year activities.

By Ronni Newton

The “normal” high school experience for the Class of 2021 came screeching to a halt early in the second semester of their junior year, but as COVID-19 cases fall and restrictions ease, the current group of seniors at Conard and Hall are gradually returning to a “new normal” and will have the opportunity to experience most of the milestones traditionally associated with the conclusion of the high school years.

Prom, in-person graduation, and safe grad will be held for the seniors at West Hartford’s Conard and Hall high schools this year – along with a new tradition of the graduation car parade which was launched as a COVID-safe activity for the Class of 2020.

Conard High School will hold its senior prom on Saturday, May 29 at the Farmington Polo Grounds, and Hall High School seniors will be at the same venue the next night. Both will be outdoors under a tent.

While holding prom on a Sunday night is certainly out of the ordinary, since it’s Memorial Day weekend that means there is no school the following day and that day seemed to be the best of the options.

“Trying to find a venue was challenging,” Hall Principal Dan Zittoun said. Other days of the week – even having prom on a Tuesday or Thursday night – were also considered, but among the things they had to work around was the AP exam schedule, and many of those tests begin online at 4 p.m. with no flexibility.

“I don’t want to make you have to decide between prom or an AP exam,” Zittoun said.

The goal was also to have prom take place at least two weeks before graduation (June 15) to avoid any possibility of prom-goers having to quarantine and missing graduation.

The limit for prom at both schools was initially set at 200 attendees and there was going to be a lottery for tickets, but the lifting of capacity restrictions by Gov. Ned Lamont as of May 19 will allow for all seniors who want to attend to be able to do so.

Zittoun said as of now, only current Hall seniors are allowed to attend Hall’s prom.

Conard Principal Julio Duarte said the same rule will apply for the Conard senior prom.

For both schools the students will be seated at tables under the tent, there will be a DJ, and dancing will be permitted.

There are some differences in format between the schools. Hall’s prom is from 5-9 p.m., and students will be given a “snack bag” of food items, while Conard’s prom will run from 6-10 p.m. and students will have a full sit-down dinner.

Both principals said that other than when students are eating, the plan at this time is that masks will be required to be worn.

For many years the tradition at both Conard and Hall is for junior prom to be the more formal event – long gowns and tuxes – while senior prom is more casual “cocktail” attire.

“I haven’t heard for sure, but the preliminary conversations was that it was going to be a traditional prom” with formal clothing, Duarte said. Many current senior girls had already bought their prom dresses last year in anticipation of a junior prom that never took place, and want to have a chance to wear them.

The schools won’t dictate the attire, Duarte said and it will be up to the students, just like many of the other decisions that have required flexibility throughout the year.

“For everything we’ve done this year we’ve tried to be as specific as possible, and then let them decide what their comfortable level is,” Duarte said.

Since the eligibility criteria dropped to include everyone 16 and older, many students have already been vaccinated, and several hundred from Conard and Hall attended vaccination clinics arranged through West Hartford Public Schools and the West Hartford-Bloomfield Health District where they received their first Pfizer shot at UConn on April 21 or 24. Based on the schedule, they should be two weeks from their second shots by prom.

Neither principal has data about the specific number of students at each school that have been vaccinated.

Both Conard and Hall will have in-person graduation on their campuses on June 15. Conard’s ceremony is being planned for the traditional location on the baseball field, Duarte said, while Zittoun said Hall may move graduation from the hill in front of the school to the stadium to accommodate more distanced seating.

The number of tickets allowed per student is still being finalized at both schools, the principals said.

Hall High School graduation. June 25, 2020. Photo credit: Ronni Newton (we-ha.com file photo)

Conard High School graduation. June 24, 2020. Photo credit: Ronni Newton (we-ha.com file photo)

While both Conard and Hall had graduation ceremonies for the Class of 2020 (both were drive-in format events at the Farmington Polo Grounds), that class had neither prom nor safe grad. The safe grad celebrations, while somewhat different in format, will also return this year for both schools.

Hall’s safe grad will begin a few hours after graduation, and will be held at the school in a combination of indoor and outdoor areas. Zittoun said the area near the kick wall outside the gym will be fenced off. Conard safe grad will be June 17 at Lake Compounce.

Planning is still underway for graduation car parades, which were enjoyed by the entire community and will likely be held this year on either Sunday, June 13 or Monday, June 14.

“We’ve heard from parents and students who were thrilled [with last year’s car parades] and we hope to make it a tradition,” Duarte said. He and Zittoun are working with Central Office as well as the town and the police department to schedule the parades.

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