(Posted May 6, 2020)
By Kristy Zurbrick, Madison Editor
When McKenna Archey headed home from school on March 13, she didn’t think it would be the last time she’d walk the halls of West Jefferson High School or say goodbye to her teachers.
And she didn’t think she’d never wear her Riders jersey again, the one she wore last spring as a member of the softball team that made school history by reaching the state Final Four.
“It’s definitely been so surreal,” she said about the impact the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic has had on her senior year.
Archey understands why schools were ordered closed for the rest of the year and why graduation will look very different from what students before her have experienced.
“It’s because they want to keep everyone healthy, but it’s hard not to think, ‘Why our class?’” she said.
In the same breath, though, Archey talked about the resilience of her classmates and the way the community has rallied behind them.
“We’re walking through this all together, hand-in-hand. We’re going to get through it as one whole,” she said. “There’s no use sitting around complaining. We have our whole futures to look forward to, and we need to let the community’s support carry us to it.”
A recent example of that support came in the form of congratulatory signs planted in the yards of all 92 West Jefferson High School seniors.
Inspired by a video she saw on Facebook about a similar effort in another town, resident Paula Hay coordinated the sign project with the help of fellow residents Bonnie and Terry Ward and Steve Warner.
Hay’s granddaughter, Kayleen Martin, is a member of West Jefferson’s Class of 2020.
“I see the hurt that she feels because she has missed out on so much fun,” Hay said. “These kids have worked so hard for 13 years. We want them to know the community is thinking of them and proud of them.”
Hay presented the sign idea on a Facebook page she created a few years ago, “West Jefferson (A Community Making a Difference),” first asking for students’ addresses.
“Within 48 hours, I had all 92 addresses,” she said.
It took just another six hours to raise the $875 needed to pay for the yard signs, as well as a large banner.
Hay then recruited first responders from the West Jefferson Police Department, Jefferson Township Fire Department, West Jefferson Post of the Ohio State Highway Patrol, and the Madison County Sheriff’s Office to form a small parade for delivery of the signs, which took place on the afternoon of May 4.
“I chose first responder vehicles because they have lights and sirens and can make a lot of noise,” Hay said with a laugh.
She asked parents to keep the project a secret from their children until delivery time. As for how it went, she said, “The kids loved it! The smiles on their faces made it all worthwhile.”
Archey was one of those seniors smiling from ear to ear. She was surprised and touched by the gesture.
“The signs are fantastic!” she said. “They show that the community is with us and they have our backs through it all. West Jefferson is one big family, in my book.”