2020 was a year Prairie — and the world — will never forget.
Our community faced highs and lows, all the while focusing on becoming #BetterTogether through any obstacle.
In the spirit of our 12 Days of Giving campaign — and the “12 Days of Christmas” celebration we will forego this holiday season — here are the top 12 highlights from 2020.
Jubilate At Home
In order to safely celebrate the sounds of the season, Prairie’s annual winter concert, “Jubilate,” went virtual! Students in Grades 5-12 performance ensembles classes finished their semester by rehearsing and recording their performance, which was posted online here and made available for families to view from the comfort of their home.
Into the Woods
The curtain had only just been raised on the Prairie Performing Arts Department‘s production of “Into the Woods” when it was forced to lower again. Friday, March 13th marked Opening Night — as well as the night Governor Tony Evers gave the order to close schools during the COVID-19 crisis. Prairie’s Upper School Players gave it their all in their one (and only!) performance, to rave reviews.
POP Presents Pumpkins
Typically, Fall Fest marks the first all-school community event of the year. This fall, to capture the same family-focused spirit, POP (Parents of Prairie) coordinated a pumpkin walk. Students in all grades were encouraged to pick up a pumpkin (donated by Borzynski’s Farm & Floral Market), carve it at home, and drop it off at school in late October. The walk itself took place Saturday night on campus, with socially-distanced gourds lit up in the dark — and individually packaged snacks to boot!
Let’s Have a Parade!
Everyone loves a parade. Unfortunately, for the most part those — along with the majority of summertime activities — were postponed this year. But in the interest of celebrating the teachers, students, and parents who made the spring so successful, the Primary School closed the academic year with its own festive, socially-distanced parade. After some initial stormy weather, the clouds cleared and a brilliant, beautiful sun was out to stay.
Premiere Goes Virtual
In light of health concerns due to COVID-19, 2020 marked the first-ever virtual version of Premiere, Prairie’s most anticipated community event to raise funds for scholarships. Parents, alumni, teachers, and friends logged in to virtual cocktail parties hosted via Zoom. The hallmark silent auction took place with the help of an online bidding software, with participants tracking items on their phones, tablets, and home computers. Party-goers concluded the night by watching a thank-you video featuring students, alumni, parents, trustees, and faculty, sharing their thanks and saying hello from afar.
While the pandemic would ultimately rob high school athletes of a spring season, there was a bit of fortuity involved with the timing of the local and national shutdowns: Prairie’s Boys’ Basketball team (15-10) won their fourth consecutive WIAA Division 4 Regional Championship four days before Governor Tony Evers declared a Public Health Emergency in the State of Wisconsin.
Fall athletes did get the chance to compete in person — and the Prairie Hawks took full advantage of that opportunity. The Boys’ Soccer team clinched yet another Division 4 State Championship title, and Girls’ Golf finished out a stellar season as the Division 2 runner-up. Boys’ and Girls’ Cross Country each sent runners to the state meet.
Bigger, Better, Together
At the 2020 State of the School address, Dr. Nat Coffman announced Prairie’s plans for a brand-new, 12,500 square foot Early School building. The Leipold Johnson Early Education Center — scheduled to open in fall 2021 — will allow Prairie to meet a steadily increasing demand from parents who want their child to experience the benefits of a play-based, best practices curriculum in a setting that is both beautiful and functional. The impact of the new facility will be felt campus-wide, as every division will gain access to new and existing spaces currently occupied by the Early School. Construction is being led by Bukacek Construction, a company helmed by Prairie alumna Andrea Bukacek ’03.
“K. Will” Retires
After thirty-six years of service to The Prairie School, Science teacher Kevin Will announced his retirement from teaching at the end of the 2019-20 school year. There are few roles in Prairie’s Upper School that Kevin has not held: He created and coordinated the Advisory Program; served as Dean of Students, advised Student Council, the Honor Committee, and the Key Club; and has coached basketball, tennis, and golf. He has also served as an advisor and mentor to countless faculty and students, building community one relationship at a time. One of Kevin’s most impactful projects was the creation of the annual Upper School leadership retreat to Camp Manito-wish a quarter-century ago. This trip is not only one of the foundations of Upper School life at Prairie, but it has been used as a model for many other schools seeking to build community among their own students and faculty.
Commencement Amid COVID-19
As memorable senior years go, this one is hard to beat. For the Class of 2020, their final semester was conducted almost completely online — including final exams and AP tests. But graduates were able to gather one last time for a socially-distanced Commencement ceremony on campus, in the Johnson Athletic Center. Notably, one member of each student’s immediate family was selected to present their graduate with their diploma, a traditional typically reserved for Prairie faculty and trustees.
Prairie was deeply saddened by the loss of four foundational members of our community in 2020: Prairie’s first art teacher, Dave Drewek; dedicated facilities team member, John Kirt; longtime coach and teacher Harold “Swanee” Swanson; and former French teacher Tracy Waters. All of these individuals dedicated much of their lives to helping Prairie become the place it is today. Read tributes in the latest edition of Prairie magazine.
Navigating Distance Learning
COVID-19 prompted Prairie to close its doors on March 13th, transitioning students and faculty into distance learning and — like many other schools in Wisconsin and across the nation — putting a hold or an end to many of the activities and traditions our community holds so dear. Amidst uncertainty and unforeseen new challenges, Prairie students and faculty showed strength, collaboration, tenacity, and resilience, allowing for a successful pivot to the virtual platform.
Welcome Back: 2020-21
In the spring, in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, Prairie teachers and students connected virtually. Over the summer, school leaders did what they do best, collaborating to find a better solution. That teamwork led to Prairie students and faculty reuniting on campus to kick off the fall term.
Campus looked a little different, to allow for more space and observe grade-level silos; some students took classes in different spaces (like the JAC, the “home base” for Grades 5/6 all semester). All students and faculty filled out health tickets — first on paper, then digitally — each morning, to ensure their symptoms were in check. Parents began receiving regular health updates in The Weekly each Friday, and referenced a new COVID Resources hub on the TPS website.
Our community has taken many measures to ensure the health of our students. We are grateful to everyone for rising to the challenge and doing everything in their power to help Prairie’s students and teachers safely keep learning and growing.
During this year’s 12 Days of Giving, we introduced you to more People of Prairie while sharing some of the relationships, stories, and moments that have helped define our community over the decades. You can support this year’s 12 Days of Giving campaign and help grow inspiration and creativity all across campus with a gift to the Prairie Fund.