Allison Nau, Kristin Jennings, Bernadette Korb, Bobby Vernier, Bianca DeMarco, Rachel Stringham, Jennifer Cole, Allison Payenski and Marci Thraen

Sending a sign to their students are Desert Edge High School teachers, from top left, Allison Nau, Kristin Jennings, Bernadette Korb, Bobby Vernier, Bianca DeMarco, Rachel Stringham, Jennifer Cole, Allison Payenski and Marci Thraen. 

For high school seniors, May is typically a combination of joy and activity, with prom, finals and graduation stacking up to signify the end of a four-year journey. West Valley high school seniors looked forward to tossing graduation caps in the air — a symbol of release.

Then came a pandemic.

After Gov. Doug Ducey’s order in March, districts around the state closed schools and canceled or postponed all events for the remainder of the school year.

West Valley districts are figuring out what that means for graduation ceremonies. Seniors at Agua Fria, Canyon View, Desert Edge, Millennium and Verrado high schools had May 16 graduations postponed.

“Graduations for our district high schools are currently slated for July 1 at State Farm Stadium in Glendale,” said Dennis Runyan, superintendent of Agua Fria Union High School District.

Runyan later added the date is still under review and “this is not a done deal ...

“We continue to monitor CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) recommendations and this opportunity remains subject to the state and local advisories in place for this July,” Runyan said.

But, he added, he is optimistic graduation will happen July 1.

“The very spacious stadium venue has also offered to keep in place social distancing supports and to streamline the event ceremony in a safe manner based on the advisories at the time,” Runyan said.

“I believe I speak for many of our families and students when I share that if we are able to safely plan and execute a graduation ceremony it would mean the world to all of us professionally and be an important tribute to the class of 2020.”

Meanwhile, all Agua Fria district students continue their education, though in a different format.

“We know these are extraordinary times and a direct shift to the learning process,” Runyan said in a recent letter to students and families.

For more than a month, rather than attending schools, Agua Fria students have been continuing to learn from their homes in Avondale, Buckeye, Goodyear, Litchfield Park and Waddell.

“Our staff and students have worked diligently to keep the fourth quarter moving forward. We have also worked with the professional creativity and support of teachers to modify instructional practices to fit the technology delivery system,” Runyan said. 

He added that teachers have created “virtual classrooms” with online chat groups through the parent information hub portal at

School is scheduled to end May 21 at Agua Fria district schools.

Similarly, Tolleson Union High School District continues online teaching for students of its three Avondale (Westview, West Point, La Joya) and two Tolleson (University, Tolleson Union) high schools.

“TUHSD continues to offer learning opportunities each day for students with aligned assessments,” said Joseph Ortiz, a district spokesman.

“Final exams were suspended. This decision was made due to variables that could have negatively impacted students; for example, personal or family illness, internet connectivity or financial vulnerabilities.”

Graduation was scheduled for May 20 but has been postponed with no date yet, Ortiz said.

“We are hopeful that we can do a graduation at a later date over the summer,” Ortiz said.

He added that proms were canceled.

Communication is key, he added: “We have reached out to every staff member and family in our district and asked that they remain committed to teaching and learning every day making our community.”

According to Dr. Paul Tighe, superintendent of Saddle Mountain Unified School District, “Tonopah Valley High School is planning several options for graduation in anticipation of various levels of CDC recommendations and state restrictions that could be in effect after April 30.

“Plans will be finalized as the end of the school year gets closer and more is known about restrictions on gatherings.”

Districts are continuing to provide free breakfast and lunch to students.” Tolleson Union High School District students can receive a five-day meal pack for the week at their schools, according to the district’s website. Meals are distributed from 4 to 6 p.m. Mondays.

Agua Fria Unified is collaborating with Litchfield and Avondale elementary school districts to provide “grab-and-go” breakfast and lunch for students.

Last week, more than 35,000 meals were served, Runyan said.

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