By Tabitha Pattishall

A.A. Milne, author of the Winnie the Pooh series, wrote, “You are braver than you believe, stronger than you seem, and smarter than you think.” The fifth grade graduates of Palencia Elementary School have lived out these words as they have embraced distance learning and came to grips with the fact the promotion they had envisioned for the past six years would be much different than they had anticipated. 

Ilene Bomser, mother of a Palencia Elementary fifth grader, said, “I do feel bad that these kids worked so hard all year and are missing out on so many year-end events. I am even a little sad for myself, as my youngest is finishing up at the school we have been a part of since they first opened their doors eight years ago. I was looking forward to volunteering for the fifth grade graduation dance, but like everything else, the dance has been canceled. I know the school and the PTO are working on some things to make the end of fifth grade a little bit special for these kids, and it will be interesting to see what they come up with.”

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The last day the school’s fifth graders got together before learning of school closings was for their fifth grade field trip to SeaWorld in early March. In the past, these fifth grade field trips have been later in the school year. The earlier date this year was a blessing in disguise as it meant the last day the Palencia Elementary School class of 2020 spent together physically was having fun hanging out with their friends. 

Fifth grader Evan Mills said, “It’s disappointing and upsetting to learn that I will not be having my fifth grade kickball tournament or my fifth grade graduation; however, I’m so happy that I was able to have my field trip to SeaWorld and was able to have some fun with my friends before graduating.”

Parent Jamie Donaldson said, “The way Palencia Elementary has supported our kids through a time that is new to all of us has been absolutely wonderful. It is sad to think what they have missed, but it teaches us to be grateful for what we do have. Faith, family, and community.” 

Palencia Elementary Principal Catherine Goodrich said she has long been fascinated by the way each grade level class of students has its own personality. She said when she thinks of the fifth grade class of 2020, she thinks the students are problem solvers, well-rounded, and fun-loving.

“It’s beyond disheartening when I think about the celebrations the students will miss out on due to the far reaching impacts of COVID-19 and CDC guidelines; however, this class has the perfect balance of sensitivity and depth,” Goodrich said. “To the Palencia Elementary fifth grade class of 2020: Continue to love life, others, and your dreams deeply. We know you will continue to make us proud.”

While the fifth grade celebration activities are still being planned in a way that follows the guidelines set forth by the St. Johns County School District, one special item is a go: each fifth grade graduate will receive a commemorative sign with the student’s name and photo that they can display at home. The signs will be provided at no cost to the Palencia Elementary families.

Photo courtesy Palencia Elementary School

Fifth graders Max Weiss, Evan Mills, Mitchell Davis, Wade Fritz, and Ben Mirabito enjoyed a field trip to Sea World before school was closed for the year.

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