child in graduation cap and gown waves from a car's sunroof Phoenix Day's Graduation Parade|Photo by Jessica Swarner

“This is just the first of many graduations for them, and they will go on to do more.”

Nearly 20 preschoolers paraded down a Valley street Friday morning as part of a socially distanced graduation ceremony. 

Staff at Phoenix Day, an early childhood education program run by nonprofit A New Leaf, organized the drive-thru ceremony for the kids.

Jennifer Garcia, the program’s education director, has worked in early childhood education for two decades. She said she and the teachers felt it was important the kids feel celebrated in some way.

The families were very grateful, she said. 

“A lot of [families’] high school graduates, their eighth-grade promotions, and even college graduations were either canceled or there was something done where the students couldn’t participate,” Garcia said. “They couldn’t feel that closure of years of hard work, and we didn’t want that to be the first foot forward for our children.”  

Jose Zamora, whose son Aiden was in the parade, said the ceremony was “more than I expected.” 

“I didn’t think there was going to be anything,” Zamora said. “I really appreciate this.” 

Aiden said his favorite part of the parade was getting to ride in the car, and he is excited to move on to kindergarten. 

“[Aiden] loved it,” Zamora added. “He was happy.” 

The children processed down the street three times – the first as a celebratory drive-by, and the second as an opportunity to stop and take a photo with their teachers and graduation certificate. During the third go-around, the children received cupcakes, a backpack full of school supplies, and other goodies. 

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Garcia said Phoenix Day has remained opened during the pandemic to give children, especially those whose parents are essential workers, a safe place to go. 

“Essential workers, in order for them to continue to be the backbone of America and Arizona, they still need to work and we felt strongly we still needed to be a support,” Garcia said. 

The facility, which serves infants through five-year-olds, will also remain open throughout the summer and is currently accepting new enrollees. Garcia said the best way for parents to get in contact is to call Phoenix Day at 602-252-4911 and schedule a tour.

The center is open to families of all income levels and accepts Arizona Department of Economic Security and First Things First scholarships.

Garcia said to keep everyone healthy, the facility has upped its safety protocols, including implementing temperature checks at the door and rigorously sanitizing commonly touched surfaces. 

The school also applied social distancing protocols to the graduation ceremony. Families were allowed to line up on the sidewalks – in quadrants spaced six feet apart – so they could cheer on the children and wave signs. 

“I know how important every milestone is to be celebrated for children,” Garcia said. “And I firmly believe with a strong foundation in early childhood, this is just the first of many graduations for them, and they will go on to do more.”