Saturday, March 2, 2013

An Epiphany about Fifth Grade Graduation

When I first became aware of candidate Obama, one thing that caught my attention was his stance that schools - especially urban schools - should stop holding eighth grade graduation ceremonies.  He said that finishing eighth grade is not a meaningful accomplishment in a country where the real baseline credential for success for almost everyone is a college degree (a subject for another post).  I agreed with this anti-eighth-grade graduation stance and - by extension - saw fifth grade graduation as simply ridiculous.  

Now that I have a fifth grader in a big urban school district, I'm starting to see that ritual a little differently.  Although I moved around a lot growing up, I always attended suburban school districts.  The feeder pattern in most small suburban districts has multiple elementary schools converging into one middle school.  So, it's a new school with new classmates in sixth grade, but the students with whom you've shared your K-5 years are still there on the bus and in classes.

When the subject of middle school came up during a recent haircut, Charlie told the barber that he wasn't that happy about leaving his elementary school.  After all, as he said, he's "spent half his life at that elementary school."  The transition to middle school in a city district like Pittsburgh's differs from the suburbs because Charlie's class at his magnet elementary school will split up for different neighborhood and magnet middle schools.  The crowd at his middle school will have lots of unfamiliar faces and maybe only 15% of his current classmates.  Some of his buds are headed off to 6-12 schools, where if all goes well, they'll stay until (real) graduation.  On the other hand, he may reunite with some of his grade school chums when he gets to high school, having not seen them through the middle school years.

All of that is a long way to say that fifth grade graduation this spring won't be about Charlie and his classmates accomplishing some serious academic milestone.  It will, however, be a chance for the kids and parents to gather in this unique community one last time before it scatters to the four winds.  It will be a chance to mark the end of a happy part of childhood in a group that will never be reconstituted.  What this transition/farewell really calls for - if it weren't creepier than a graduation - is a fifth grade prom.

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