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Apex Academy Eighth Graders Celebrate Graduation with a Drive-Thru Commencement

Graduation looked a bit different this year for a group of 48 eighth-graders at one Ohio school. Even at a distance, the school created a memorable event to honor the occasion. Blue, yellow, and white balloons set the stage for a socially distanced commencement ceremony at Apex Academy. Staff at the school organized the drive-thru graduation to honor the graduating class, making sure each student was recognized and celebrated individually.

Each student received a certificate, cap and gown, a keepsake frame with an Apex 2020 tassel, an Apex Lifer Award, and a cupcake. The students and their families drove to the front of the school to receive their certificate and were then able to drive to the back for a photo op.

teachers ready for drive-thru graduation

The ceremony was staggered to allow everyone to enjoy their moment while still following social distancing guidelines. Several students even had two to three cars in attendance to join in the celebration. The East Cleveland Police dropped by to show their support by setting off sirens after each student’s name was announced over the loudspeaker. They also played music and celebrated with an honorary light show!

“Our students were so excited. We could not have been more proud,” said Jennifer Littlefield, principal at Apex Academy. “The hardest part was not being able to hug them. My staff was in tears as they are such a loving and nurturing group!”

Ms. LaDondra Howell, dean of middle school at Apex was inspired to work with her team to plan the promotion event since, in traditional years, it’s an event that many students and their families look forward to.

“We felt saddened by our shut down and that our students would not be able to celebrate the ‘Apex Way!’” said Howell. “Although we were not able to do things how we normally would, nothing would have stopped us from showering our students with love and the individual attention they deserve.”

goodies for the graduates

Howell shared that the eighth-grade promotion has always been a highlight of the year along with prom and the school’s eighth-grade breakfast.  For many years, the ceremony also included a production featuring students singing, dancing, and doing skits as part of their graduation ceremony. 

“This event would not have been what it is with Ms. Howell’s team of teachers and paraprofessionals who stepped in to create the whole event,” said Littlefield. “With this frustrating time, the parents, scholars, and teachers needed to have closure to not only the school year but the connection to one another for the last time during this 2019-20 hectic school year.”

teachers taking a selfie with students

One key piece of the celebration included the Apex Life Awards, which honors students who were enrolled at the school from kindergarten through eighth-grade. This year, the graduating class included 14 lifers, who will have their names engraved on a compass to keep as a commemorative token. ​​​​​​​

“This event showed no matter how challenging the times, people will still come together for the benefit of others and make certain everyone knows we are in this together,” said Littlefield.

Congratulations, Apex class of 2020!

About Apex Academy
Apex Academy is a tuition-free, public charter school in East Cleveland, Ohio, serving students in kindergarten through eighth grade. It is part of the National Heritage Academies network, which includes more than 100 tuition-free, public charter schools serving more than 65,000 students in kindergarten through 12th grade across nine states. For more information, visit

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