By ARDEN BASTIA Pilgrim High School seniors celebrated the end of an unconventional school year with an unconventional prom on June 1. Instead of the typical country club backdrop and the sit down dinner, Pilgrim students got to boogie outside at the
Pilgrim High School seniors celebrated the end of an unconventional school year with an unconventional prom on June 1. Instead of the typical country club backdrop and the sit down dinner, Pilgrim students got to boogie outside at the Masonic Youth Center under a twinkle-light filled tent, enjoying fare from local food trucks.
“The kids were really appreciative,” said Pilgrim principal Gerald Habershaw in an interview on Wednesday. “When we came back to school in-person in January, I went into all the English classes and talked to the students. I remember talking to the senior class and a student asked about prom. I promised them that we would have the prom, and we were able to pull that off and really end on a positive note.”
According to class advisor and English teacher Andrea Hainey-LaPierre, the prom was “unconventional in a lot of ways.”
In a typical year, students and faculty advisors like Hainey-LaPierre would spend time fundraising. However, due to the pandemic and health protocols, that timeline was cut short, leaving students to scramble. Haney explained that the Class of 2021 was able to raise $7,000 through a GoFundMe.
“It seems like a lot of money, but the tent rental with chairs and a dance floor costs closer to $12,000,” she said in an interview on Monday. “This has been a difficult year for a lot of students and families, so our goal was a free prom.”
The event didn’t quite turn out to be free; students had to purchase tickets for $25. The price of a ticket was still considerably less than a prom ticket in a traditional year, which is usually around $50.
“Normally proms are fairly simple,” said Hainey-LaPierre. “Students pick a place, pick the meals, and students choose centerpieces and favors. But this year was just a really complicated undertaking.”
Hainey-LaPierre and students first worked alongside Mayor Frank Picozzi to secure Rocky Point Park as a possible venue. While the Mayor “was incredibly helpful, he met with us three times,” Hainey-LaPierre said the “process was complicated and Pilgrim was operating under a time crunch.”
Instead, John Fitz-Simon, director at the RI Masonic Youth Foundation, helped Haney coordinate the event on the 70-acre site located in Buttonwoods on the waters of Greenwich Bay.
Hainey-LaPierre and students on the executive committee had to arrange for not only a wedding tent and exit signs, but had to coordinate fire department inspections and police detail. Hainey-LaPierre also had to submit a COVID plan to the Department of Health, a process she described as “super elaborate, and kind of moot, since the restrictions were lifted right before prom.”
Once students arrived at the event, dressed in their fanciest attire with dates in tow, there was a two-step check in process. All students had to fill out an online COVID questionnaire and receive a temperature check before presenting their ticket to the event.
Another issue Hainey-LaPierre ran into while planning was the food. A more normal year would feature a formal sit-down dinner with a menu of chicken and vegetables, a meal Habershaw said, “Kids won’t even touch or eat at a prom.”
With the COVID restrictions, it appeared that food wasn’t going to be served at all. Once the restrictions lifted, Pilgrim students were able to feast from local food trucks like Axelrod’s Fry Shack, Poco Loco Tacos, Presto-Strange-O Coffee Co. and Hawaiian Jim’s Shaved Iced.
“Food trucks are such a beautiful thing,” said Hainey-LaPierre. “Normal prom food isn’t kid food, but this they were really enjoying.”
Hainey-LaPierre also mentioned Jose Boisvert of Axelrod’s was “instrumental” in arranging food trucks for the event.
Ella Centracchio, student and social media representative of the Class of 2021 executive committee, said Hainey-LaPierre and faculty “made it sound like it would be good, but I didn’t know just how great it would turn out. The event was beautiful; I loved the fairy lights in the tent. Honestly, it was more fun than a regular prom.”
Centracchio was one of 30 students who make up the Class of 2021 executive committee, and one of 6 of the class officers. She was responsible for keeping students updated and engaged through social media, as well as coordinating invitations and RSVPs.
“It was really fun to be part of the process and then see all of it come to life at prom,” she said in an interview on Monday.
Centracchio said students were resigned to the fact that prom may not happen, but instead were “pleasantly surprised.”
“There was a rush of excitement that everything felt normal. It lived up to all our expectations, and we all had fun,” said Centracchio.
“Everything felt normal again, even just for a little while,” said Haney. “It made me feel good, to see such a tremendous amount of work pay off.”
Who knows, Pilgrim’s event might just pave the way for future outdoor proms.
“We did it for necessity, but the kids really loved being outside,” said Hainey-LaPierre.