Kindergarten and eighth grade Vista Ridge Academy graduates participated in a drive-thru graduation ceremony May 20, and teachers and staff showed their support by lining the school drive holding signs while waving and cheering as students drove by.

After Brittany McLachlan, photographer and Vista Ridge Academy board member, took pictures of each graduate and their family to capture the extraordinary event, students picked up their diploma and gifts from the table where kindergarten teacher Sandy Hepp and eighth grade teacher Andrew Jones stood socially distanced to congratulate each student.

Reflecting on the experience, Hepp commented she missed being able to hug the kids. “The graduation experience was surprisingly better than I thought it was going to be,” said Hepp. “Parents could see it was important to the entire staff, and it spoke volumes that we all came together during this time.”

A total of seven kindergarteners and six eighth graders graduated. One graduate started in pre-K at Vista Ridge. Her mom, Abigail Nunez, commented on her experience at the school: “I’ve seen her strength with God. She has Him first in her heart. That’s one thing I like about this school. They show her how to lean on Him.”

Feeling a little nervous, scared and happy, Nunez’ daughter was ready to graduate. “I would have preferred an actual ceremony,” Nunez continued, “but this is the best they can do, and I appreciate it.”

Vista Ridge Academy announced in early May the graduation ceremonies would look different this year due to COVID-19 concerns. Vista Ridge moved all classes online at the end of March, but is making plans to reopen this fall.

Kindergarten parent Kassandra Cunningham said working through being an online student was difficult for her daughter, but thinks she transitioned well.

Cunningham commented, “The teachers were supportive. We just can’t wait to be back next year.” When asked about her favorite part of kindergarten, Cunningham’s daughter replied, “Getting pizza lunch on Mondays, recess and practicing violin.”

Andrew Jones’ eighth grade class grew this year. The class met every goal and challenge given to them. “I will miss them greatly,” Jones reflected. “I want them to keep working hard, striving for greatness, pushing themselves to do better and better, and not be okay with being okay.”

Hepp wants her kindergarten students to know, “No matter what they go through in life, God is going to be with them through the difficult times, and we will always have their back.”

Congratulations to the kindergarten and eighth grade classes. CHERISH life!

Marsha Bartulec is VP for administration at Vista Ridge Academy in Erie, Colorado.