Highley High seniors

Mary Burke and Ross Butcher are among the Highley High seniors who have been “adopted” by the community as a result of efforts by Mary’s mother, Lisa Burke, to give some love to them and their classmates since commencements across the country have been disrupted by the pandemic.

The class of 2020 may not be able to walk at graduation like planned but the Higley High School community is rallying around to show their support by “adopting” seniors, sending them small gifts and cards to celebrate their accomplishment. 

The Facebook group “Higley High School Class of 2020-Adopt a Senior & Graduation Parade,” compiled pictures and profile information such as their plans after high school, hobbies, and a list of their favorite things.

Lisa Burke, a Higley Unified teacher whose daughter is also part of the graduating class at Higley High, started the group after hearing about a similar effort elsewhere.

“I wanted to make sure my daughter felt the outflow of excitement leading up to graduation,” said Burke. “The community also really needed something to lift their spirits too.” 

Burke created the group on April 24, inviting other parents of the senior class to join and post pictures of their kids. 

In just a week, 260 students out of the 439 graduating class had been posted and almost all adopted. 

Haleigh Rohner – Burke’s colleague at Sossaman Middle School and whose daughter Rylee also is rgaduating from Higley High – received the invitation to join the group but was a little uncertain about it at the time. 

“I put my daughter on there to support what Lisa had started,” Rohner said. “I honestly wasn’t sure how it would be perceived, but within 5 minutes, a family that we knew adopted her.” 

A couple days later, Rylee received her first gift: Hurts Donuts dropped off at her doorstep with a note saying: “We know everything ‘hurts’ right now but we hope this helps.”

“It’s been really exciting to have these gifts to look forward to,” said Rylee. “We can look at the situation and definitely feel disappointment, but we can also look at it and see it as a memorable time. We are being recognized in so many other ways right now and this will be a part of history.” 

Those adopting the students had the option of dropping off small gifts each week leading up to graduation or donate one large gift at the end. 

Burke said she did not want to establish too many rules or monetary expectations for gift-giving in an effort to make it a fun event for everyone, no matter their budget. 

The private group has grown to nearly 900 members comprising neighbors, family members, friends, teachers and other district personnel. 

Amy Davis, a former Higley teacher, said she was excited to join the group and adopt a senior after building a unique connection with the Class of 2020. 

“I transitioned from an eighth-grade teacher to a ninth-grade teacher the same year these students went to high school,” Davis said. “Because of that, I’ve taught a large percentage of these kids and some of them twice.” 

Although recognizing many faces posted on the page, Davis said they were being snatched up rather quickly by other members of the group. She was finally able to adopt a student whose family and hers have a long history together. 

“I remembered bonding with him over that very coincidence,” said Davis. “It just seemed right that I would get to ‘adopt’ him.”

Burke and the other group administrators have been working daily to update the list of those still needing to be adopted in an effort to try and get all 439 students accounted for. 

In addition to the Adopt-a-Senior efforts, the group is also organizing a parade on May 20 as a way to honor the graduates while following social-distancing guidelines. 

The plan is for the seniors to be driven by a family member through a route within Cortina and Power Ranch neighborhoods.

 Residents and others wishing to participate will stand with posters in driveways or on sidewalks cheering on the graduates as they pass by. 

Members of the Facebook group have already raised money to pay for a DJ to lead the parade, the same DJ who would have been at this year’s prom. 

Burke said they are also trying to coordinate food trucks and assemble a balloon archway for graduates to pass through. 

“I’m incredibly impressed by the outpouring of the community and people who are willing to help,” said Burke. “It’s a nice way to come together and give these seniors something memorable to look back on.”