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Once again, community members sign up to ‘adopt’ Riverhead High School seniors

Once again, the Riverhead community is stepping up to show support to high school seniors.

Through a Facebook group, people can sign up to “adopt” seniors from Riverhead High School, a class that parents say have been struggling amid the pandemic, hybrid learning and grappling with cuts to sports, clubs and music programs on an austerity budget.

“It’s overwhelming and the kids need something now,” said Keri Stromski, who has a daughter in the senior class. “We’re trying to let kids know ‘we love you,’ and we know things are hard, but we’re here.”

Parents or family members who join the group can post a photo of their graduate and write about their accomplishments and interests. Then, anyone wishing to ‘adopt’ the student can get in touch, exchanging words of support or small gifts. “It doesn’t have to be big, it doesn’t have to be splashy,” Ms. Stromski said, adding that a little bit of encouragement goes a long way.

Since she started the group Tuesday, it has grown to over 550 members and 70 senior students have been adopted.

She’s hoping word will spread even to parents and students who don’t use Facebook in order to reach more members of the class of over 400 students.

The new tradition sprang to life last year, when the pandemic shut down schools and altered prom, graduation and other rites of passage for the Class of 2020.

As the pandemic took hold, many quickly realized that members of the senior class would miss out on all the traditions. “Everybody just embraced them and it was so beautiful to watch,” Ms. Stromski said.

Parents of last year’s seniors said the little surprises helped with the shock and disappointment felt by their children.

Dana Gabriel of Wading River said she’s happy to see the tradition being carried on. She participated last year though she doesn’t have students in the high school. “I thought it was such a great idea,” Ms. Gabriel said. “It gave these kids something to look forward to during a time when everything was taken away.”

The outpouring of love, she said, was contagious. It also became a way for her to teach her then third- and seventh-grade children firsthand about kindness.

Each week, Ms. Gabriel worked with her children on small gestures: a Taco Bell gift card, a bag of candy, a handwritten letter.

“[My son] came with me each week and would run up the driveway and leave the bags on their doorstep. He truly understood and was able to feel what it was like to do something kind for a complete stranger without anything in return. It felt great and we were so excited about it. Both of my kids each week were curious to know what’s next,” she said.

This year, Ms. Gabriel is planning to adopt three students to continue spreading positivity in a year marked by uncertainty.

But things are looking up.

The Board of Education recently voted to fund a spring season for varsity, junior varsity and middle school interscholastic athletics, as well as high school clubs and K-12 music activities beginning March 1.

In Suffolk County, the spring sports season is slated to begin April 27 and the Riverhead Blue Masques performance group recently announced that it would be staging a version of ‘High School Musical’ this spring. Ms. Stromski said the news came as a relief to her daughters. “It gave them hope again,” she said.

In addition to the new Facebook page, which is not school-sponsored, Ms. Stromski said the high school administration, Riverhead Central Faculty Association and high school parent teacher organization have also been working to brighten seniors days, from handing out senior car magnets to sponsoring a “chalk the walk” event and preparing to order lawn signs for seniors later this spring. “Hopefully by June, the kids will be embraced in support and love,” she said.

The Adopt a Senior page for 2021 can be found on Facebook here.