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Homecoming in the COVID era: No football or dance, but event still puts ‘smiles on ... faces’

Teachers met some families for the first time at Leo High School Friday during a gathering featuring free hot dogs, school supplies, T-shirts and backpacks.

Faculty, staff and volunteers of the Leo Parent Club hold up Ls with their fingers as they hand out school supplies during a “Homecoming” event at Leo High School, Friday, Sept. 18, 2020.
“L” for Leo: Faculty, staff and volunteers in the Leo High School Parent Club hand out school supplies during a “Homecoming” event Friday.
Tyler LaRiviere/Sun-Times

Fall school festivities might look different than ever before this year, but that doesn’t mean they can’t still be fun.

Dozens of students and parents showed up Friday afternoon to Leo High School in Auburn Gresham for a twist on the usual homecoming celebration.

There was no football game or dance. Instead, teachers and staff at the private all-boys Catholic school handed out hot dog lunches, school supplies, T-shirts and backpacks, while parents picked up first quarter progress reports for their kids.

“It’s just an opportunity to connect and remind them that we’re still here and we still care about them, and we’ve been through a lot so we’ll get through this,” said Leo President Dan McGrath.

“We’re out here saying hello and being silly and just reconnecting, whatever we can to reconnect, see them, let them see us, and just reestablish the bond,” McGrath said.

Masks and social distancing were required at the outdoor event, set up in a parking lot across the school building.

Many families and teachers said it was their first time meeting each other. Some students were excited to see their friends who they haven’t spent time with since the spring. A live DJ brought energy to the party.

McGrath said remote learning has been better than in the spring, with an average of 92% of students attending virtual classes every day — Leo enrolled 171 students last year. He said school leaders spent the summer months planning for remote learning, knowing it would be necessary because the neighborhood has been hard-hit by the pandemic.

“There’s a lot of variables that we just can’t control,” McGrath said. “But we’re just trying to remind the kids that you’re still going to Leo, Leo is still a special place and we’ll do everything we can to make your experience as positive as we can, even if it’s remote for now.

“It’s been hard. We miss them, we really do. This place gets in your soul, and the kids are the big reason for that. ... There’s so much going on in the world, there’s just so much negativity going on right now. And this is an opportunity to put some smiles on those faces.”