BHS prom committee outlines planning challenges

Students working to plan this year's Brainerd High School prom have faced many challenges during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Members of Brainerd High School's prom committee, along with junior class adviser Alexis Marcelo, speak to the Dispatch about the difficulties of planning this year's school dance. Submitted photo

It’s not what anyone envisioned or wanted, but it’s the best plan there is.

Juniors and seniors and Brainerd High School will be wearing masks and dancing in pods at their prom this year, but the students planning the dance are just glad it can happen at all.

Originally slated for April 17, prom was postponed until May 22 after a surge in the number of students having to quarantine due to COVID-19.

Nearly 300 students across the district were quarantined as of the Monday before the original prom date, driving school leaders to push the date out in hopes of limiting the spread of the coronavirus and allowing as many students to attend as possible. Prom will now take place the day after high school graduation at the Northern Pacific Center’s Brainerd Exchange.

“It’s just hard to know that no matter how much effort you put into something, knowing that can all be swept away at just one second’s notice, it’s definitely hard to put your full effort into something when you know that it might not happen,” junior Devin Knopf said April 29 during a prom committee meeting.


“This has been a hard thing for us. We’re basically piecing things together as we go because of our limitations and the curveballs and the changes and the postponements and stuff.”

— Alexis Marcelo, junior class adviser

Knopf’s feelings are much the same as many others, according to math teacher and junior class adviser Alexis Marcelo. Just getting students involved in the planning process proved difficult this year, with learning models changing from in-person to hybrid to distance and back again. Plans have fluctuated nearly as much, with four separate dances originally planned to limit the crowd.

The postponement less than a week before the prom date didn’t help with morale either, with many students and parents alike disappointed by the news. But Knopf and fellow junior Olivia Orlowski feel changing the date was ultimately for the best, giving the committee more prep time.

“In my mind it was a good idea to postpone it, just for everyone’s safety and to secure graduation and to make sure that we’re able to have graduation,” Knopf said. “I definitely know that there was some disappointment across the student body, but I think in the long run, it was a good thing that it was postponed.”

Brainerd High School sign
Brainerd High School

Many students, though, are just relieved that there will still be a prom.

“I feel like just as long as it’s still happening — it was postponed, not canceled — a lot of people have come around and are OK with the fact that it’s being pushed back a little bit. They’re just hoping it’s still able to happen,” Orlowski said.


The postponement also comes with a silver lining. Prom will now be 8-11 p.m., an hour longer than originally planned. Marcelo chalked the change up to knowing students will already be done with school for the year and will not have to worry about the possibility of COVID-19 spreading in the classrooms afterwards. But several precautions will still be in place to help prevent the spread as much as possible.

RELATED: BHS prom postponed to late May: COVID-19 quarantines on the rise in schools
While dancing, students will be assigned to pods of six to limit contact with others.

“When (the state) allowed us to expand our numbers — which is why we went from one dance to four dances — one of the requirements was that they have to be in groups of six, so we have encouraged our kids to show up in their groups, and we will place them either in the same group or … if there’s a group of 12, we’re going to put two pods right next to each other,” Marcelo said.

Face masks will also be required, and there will not be any food served, as the logistics would be too difficult, Marcelo said.

There will be outside space available, though, to give kids a break from the dancing pods when needed. As of late April, Marcelo said she expected about 500 students to show up to prom, but ticket sales will continue until May 19, so numbers could increase. Fortunately, the Brainerd Exchange is larger than the normal prom venue, meaning students will have more room to spread out.

The interior of the Brainerd Exchange building at the Northern Pacific Center in Brainerd, shortly before it opened in 2019. Steve Kohls / Brainerd Dispatch file photo

“The NP Center has been super flexible, very helpful and understanding. They want this to happen just as much as we want this to happen,” Marcelo said, also praising the students for their hard work.


“I would say, on behalf of the kiddos, with the year we’ve been handed, they’ve gone above and beyond what we’ve needed to do,” she said. “This has been a hard thing for us. We’re basically piecing things together as we go because of our limitations and the curveballs and the changes and the postponements and stuff.”

RELATED: School COVID-19 cases on the decline as approaching spring plans stay on track
And Knopf wants the community to know that — despite the setbacks and disappointment — the students on the planning committee really are doing the best they can.

“We’re trying our hardest to not only abide by the laws that we are going to have to follow and also make it a good experience for the students,” he said. “And I know that sometimes that’s been reflecting kind of poorly on us, for like the pods. People have been like, ‘Why are you making us dance in pods?’ People don't really understand that those are rules that we have to follow. Those aren’t necessarily what we want.”

THERESA BOURKE may be reached at or 218-855-5860. Follow her on Twitter at .
Theresa Bourke started working at the Dispatch in July 2018, covering Brainerd city government and area education, including Brainerd Public Schools and Central Lakes College.
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