From field trips to junior prom, the Patchogue-Medford Class of 2021 has lost many memorable high school experiences due to COVID-19 restrictions.
But this year, Patchogue and Medford officials, the Greater Chamber of Commerce and Patchogue-Medford Union Free School District want its seniors to celebrate the end of the school year safely – by potentially transforming Patchogue Village streets into an outdoor prom venue.
Village officials and Patchogue business owners gathered on Tuesday, April 6, at the Patchogue Theatre for the Performing Arts to brainstorm concepts and discuss ideas for the potential prom.
“We’re looking to, under COVID guidelines and following all state and local protocols, come up with an idea of how to host a culminating event that is special and includes everybody in the senior class,” Patchogue-Medford High School assistant principal Garrett Comanzo said during the meeting. “With about 600 seniors, it’s difficult for us.”
Preliminary discussions on the outdoor prom have begun, though few details have been finalized. What’s confirmed? The senior prom is scheduled for Monday, June 21, and will be held outdoors. The unofficial theme? A “Mask”-querade under the stars.
“The village, the chamber and school district are all extremely excited about this,” chamber executive director David Kennedy said. “But there’s a lot of logistics to work out... in our COVID world.”
To meet current safety protocols, officials would need to set up three separate areas where a select number of students could gather. Ideally, Patchogue Village would close off the street from Maple to West Avenue (or a shorter distance) and ask downtown businesses to close from sometime between 6 to 10 p.m. to reduce the number of people in the area, Kennedy said at the meeting.
Officials determined that a Monday would be the best day of the week to host, as it’s a slower business day. Roughly 15 local businesses are already on board, but Kennedy said he recognizes that closing up shop for a day is a difficult commitment.
“Asking anyone to close their business after the year we’ve been through – that’s a big ask,” he said.
To maintain social distancing between students, dancing will likely not be offered at the event. Alternative safer activities, like street performers and stationary bikes, were considered at the meeting.
The potential event would ideally be catered by downtown restaurants and eateries. Eric Rafkin, owner of Bobbique, has taken an early lead on the planning process.
“[We] are looking forward to this wonderful community event to honor our youth,” Rafkin said, though noting the plans are in the very early stages.
At the meeting, representatives from Patchogue-based Long Island Soda Systems offered to provide two portable bars, roughly 100 folding chairs and 15 catering round tables for the prom.
Comanzo said roughly 500 to 650 Pat-Med seniors have attended standard proms in the past. But there’s no way of predicting the turnout, or how the coronavirus may impact the community this year.
Student body representatives at the meeting said there’s been a buzz in the hallways about the possibility of a prom. It’s become somewhat of a motivator for seniors to finish off the year strong, one student said.
Medford is on board, too: Representatives in the hamlet have agreed to host an outdoor “mocktail hour” for seniors near the Medford train station, Kennedy added.
A prom budget has yet to be determined since it’s based on the ticket price, Comanzo said. Traditionally, one prom ticket costs about $100 each. Once the details of the event are determined, he said, then the district can begin selling tickets and promoting the event.
The Patchogue Chamber is seeking donations and considering hosting a fundraiser to ensure the prom happens. However, the details have yet to be finalized and confirmed.
Regardless of budgetary concerns, Patchogue mayor Paul Pontieri said this is an opportunity to showcase the community, especially in the context of media coverage.
“This isn’t just about Patchogue being bars and restaurants. It’s about Patchogue-Medford taking care of our community and our kids,” Pontieri said.
As it stands, the senior prom is up in the air. But Kennedy said the community is committed to making it a reality.
“I’ve heard a lot of enthusiasm from people that want to help out and be a part of this,” Kennedy continued. “The most important thing for us is to celebrate the seniors. If we do this, we need to realize we’re doing all of it for them – to give them the experience that they truly deserve.”