In a world without COVID-19, the commemoration ceremony for Badger Ridge Middle School and Core Knowledge Charter School’s building on Thursday, May 14, would have looked very different.

As people would have walked in the front door, photos of staff who helped found the building when it opened on Jan. 2, 1992, would have lined the halls. In the gym, there’d be a second set of photos on chairs on the gym floor reserving their seats.

Those chairs would have faced the bleachers, where the almost 900 current students from both BRMS and CKCS would have sat for an assembly that celebrated the school building and the education that took place there during the last 28 years. Students would have signed a large wooden key made by the technology information teacher, and staff would have symbolically “handed over the keys” to Sugar Creek principal and former BRMS teacher Todd Brunner, whose school will commence in the building next fall.

Instead, as current, former and founding staff gathered together for the commemoration May 14, they did so from their homes over video conferencing platform Zoom, while the BRMS/CKCS gym were quiet, full of packed-up boxes and moving equipment.

Organizers Sarah Worley, Diana Lehnherr and Jodi Guttman, all BRMS teachers, said when schools were ordered to close in mid-March over concerns of spreading COVID-19, they didn’t ever consider canceling the commemoration, but they knew they were going to have to work with the tools available to them.

“The importance of what we wanted to do really outweighed the perceived obstacles there were – this was very, very important to the three of us to honor our historical perspective, and then to celebrate where we were going,” Guttman said. “It was more of, ‘How are we going to make it happen?’”

The commemoration ceremony had to be held without students, Worley said, but staff are working on other ways to help them celebrate the end of their time in the building.

Staff aren’t quite sure when a student ceremony might happen, or what it might look like yet, Worley added.

“Our original intent (was to involve students),” she said. “We’re still thinking of how to celebrate with them.”

The hour-and-a-half long Zoom commemoration ceremony featured a 30-minute video of memories from the school’s early beginnings.

It started with a referendum under then-superintendent Tony Evers, now the state’s governor, how the building’s design came together and followed with the parade that ensued in January 1992, as students marched from the old middle school, now known as the K-Wing of the high school, three minutes north to the new $9.9 million middle school building.

The commemoration ceremony also included memories from founding and former staff members who introduced themselves and spoke about what teaching in the building had meant to them, with a surprise recorded message from Evers, who recalled the process of asking the district taxpayers to approve the 1990 referendum for a new middle school and seeing the building be constructed.

“It just showed me, as superintendent of the school district, what a fine, outstanding school district it is when people pull together – extraordinary and miraculous things can happen,” he said in the pre-recorded video.

The commemoration closed with comments from current superintendent Dean Gorrell, who thanked former and current staff for their work done with students in the building.

“It’s been my pleasure and privilege to work with great staff at Badger Ridge Middle School,” he said. “My gratitude to everyone there who’s working to make this move a reality, and my gratitude to everybody who built the success of Badger Ridge to what it is today.”

Lehnherr said that despite all being miles apart, the opportunity to see everyone’s face and hear them talk fondly about their time as BRMS educators was wonderful.

“Everyone said the same thing about a sense of family, and to be in that environment, it was just such a heartwarming experience,” she said.

Guttman said she spent so much time smiling while reminiscing with all of the current and former staff during the virtual commemoration ceremony that her face hurt afterward.

She had prepared herself to not cry as she saw more and more of her former coworkers join the Zoom meeting, but Guttman said she ended up holding back tears, anyway.

“Honestly, my heart was just full,” she said. “My face hurt from smiling, but (the commemoration) just brought it all together and was so worth it.”

Email reporter Kimberly Wethal at kimberly.wethal@wcinet.com and follow her on Twitter @kimberly_wethal.