Monadnock Regional High School will host prom Saturday night under a tent in the back parking lot, decorated with lanterns and twinkling lights to match the dance’s theme, “silver linings.”
“The silver lining of all of this is that we get to come together as a group and have fun,” said Erin Condap, a health teacher at the Swanzey school who also serves as the junior class adviser.
As area schools near the end of a second year upended by the COVID-19 pandemic — which led to prom cancellations last spring — they are working to restore some sense of normalcy for upperclassmen by finding ways to hold prom safely. Many, like Monadnock, are holding their events outdoors and on school grounds, to provide plenty of space for physical distancing.
“As we looked at locations in the Monadnock area, many places were not even comfortable having people at those locations,” Condap said. “So it came down to us being most comfortable having it on our property, and making sure COVID guidelines are consistent.”
Those guidelines include requiring masks at prom, just like in school, and providing plenty of hand sanitizer, Principal Lisa Spencer added.
At Keene High School, where prom is scheduled for June 19 on campus, physical distancing will be required throughout the event. That means the institution of a new rule: no slow dancing allowed.
“It’s going to be socially distanced dancing, and we’re going to have chaperones there to help ensure that,” said Julia Lavallee, president of Keene High’s senior class council, which is in charge of planning prom.
And while the absence of slow dancing will make Keene High’s dance different than in years past, Lavallee said the senior class council is planning to use indoor and outdoor space at the school to offer a variety of activities. For example, she said, they’ll have lawn games outside, and both a band and a DJ since the Keene High gym and cafeteria will be used for prom, too.
“This is not going to be maybe the event that we envisioned, or that every movie ever portrayed,” Lavallee, a Keene resident, said. “But for us, it’s something a little bit more, to celebrate our time together, and to say goodbye.”
Fall Mountain Regional High School in Langdon will have a similar setup for prom, Principal Richard Towne said.
In addition to the school gym, “we’re going to access the cafeteria, and we have a patio connected to our cafeteria that has a large tent over it,” he said. “And we’re going to access various areas of the school campus for things like pictures and lawn games.”
Fall Mountain’s prom is typically at Walpole Town Hall, Towne added, but school leaders this year decided to host the dance on campus, where they have a “much larger space.” This includes the athletic fields, which will be available to students during the dance this Saturday evening.
Along with moving prom to bigger venues this year, many local schools are capping the number of tickets available to students. Conant High School in Jaffrey is limiting the dance to 75 students, who must be juniors or seniors at the school, Principal David Dustin said. In the past, students could invite dates from other schools but won’t be allowed to this year, both to reduce capacity and help with contact tracing, if needed.
Hinsdale High School, which is having prom Saturday under a tent at the Northfield Golf Club, is also limiting the event to students at the school, according to Telitha Lucier, a science teacher helping to plan prom. Students who attend have to give their cellphone numbers in case contact tracing becomes necessary.
Even with these sorts of COVID-19 protocols, Dustin said Conant’s prom — scheduled for May 29 at Stonewall Farm in Keene — should feel fairly normal for students who have endured nearly a year and a half of pandemic-altered learning.
“It’s critical for us that at least our senior class has as close to a normal experience at prom as we can,” he said. “... This current group of seniors is the only group that has two years in a row of the loss of these end-of-high school experiences.”
For Lavallee, the Keene High senior, prom has provided a bright spot to look forward to throughout the school year, most of which she has spent learning in a hybrid model.
“For me, it means everything,” she said. “It’s been a year and a half since I’ve been in school with half of my classmates, so I really missed out on getting to see them. So for me it’s a chance … to just see all the people I really haven’t had a chance to spend time with.”
Spencer, the Monadnock principal, said, ultimately events like prom and graduation are meant to celebrate graduating seniors, especially as they have persisted throughout the pandemic.
“I think it’s really important for our students to recognize how well they’ve done in the past year and a half, and how strong they’ve been,” she said. “... They deserve to have all those important milestones that high school students have rightfully earned.”
Sentinel staff writer Paul Cuno-Booth contributed to this report.