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Marking a Milestone for 8th Grade

Thursday, December 15, 2016  
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By Christina Mimms, SAIS

Significant events in life deserve some recognition. Be it a child’s first tooth, publishing a novel, or a wedding, the celebrations can range greatly. How schools mark the end of an 8th grade year and the matriculation to high schools also varies. Some K-12 schools may hold an awards assembly or no event at all; K-8 schools likely celebrate more fervently. Whether a student is departing campus or merely moving to an upper school building, taking the time to recognizing the changing relationship between student and school is a worthwhile endeavor.

At Episcopal Day School (EDS) in Pensacola, FL, which serves Pre-K through 8th grade students, graduates receive a significant send-off. The 8th graders take a class trip to different locations. In the past, they have visited the Florida Keys and gone rafting in North Carolina. At the end of the year, they enjoy an 8th grade banquet with a catered dinner for students and their parents, followed by a dance. At the dinner, teachers share a few words about every student. At an all-school celebration in the school gym, the 8th graders perform a choreographed dance for the students and recognize their 1st grade chapel buddies.

The final event is a graduation ceremony held in Christ Church adjacent to campus. Loosely based on the Episcopal church service of evening prayer, the ceremony includes an address from the head of school, prayers, Bible readings, a speech from a prominent member of the community (who may or may not be affiliated with the school), the presentation of four awards, speeches from a student valedictorian and salutatorian, presentation of diplomas, and presentation of several gifts from the school to the students. The 8th graders, who typically number about 50 per class, wear dress clothes. Officials at EDS decided long ago that students would not wear caps and gowns.

“It’s more of a celebration,” said Steve Edele, head of the middle school. “It’s so much fun to send them off as a lot of them have been with us since preschool. It’s a nice way to end the year and end their time at EDS.”

Westchester Country Day School in High Point, NC, which serves Pre-K through 12th grades, used to hold an 8th grade “graduation” but amended it to be an awards ceremony for all middle school, according to Mary Keever, head of the middle school. The school invites all parents to the event, at which 8th graders wear dress clothes and process into the auditorium.

School leaders present awards for leadership, kindness, and compassion, and to one boy and one girl who each represent the school’s four pillars. Other awards are presented for art, music, and sportsmanship in athletics. Faculty vote on all the awards.

Each adviser to the 8th grade reads a short reflection for each student, who also receive a certificate and a gift from the school. The ceremony closes with a slideshow of photos from the whole school year, assembled by the students. Following the event, 7th grade parents host a reception in the courtyard outside the auditorium.

“Our goal is to celebrate the experience, bring closure, and help them reflect on their middle school career,” Keever said.

Until a few years ago, Woodlawn School in Davidson, NC, included 8th grade awards at its commencement for seniors. Founded in 2002, the school operated with 4th through 7th grades for several years before graduating its first senior class in 2010. While it worked initially to include all awards presentations at commencement, the thought process changed as the school grew.

“I felt like commencement needs to be about seniors and upper school only,” said Angela McKenzie, assistant head of school. “8th grade seemed a little out of place at commencement.” Woodlawn now hosts a separate luncheon and awards ceremony for 8th graders and parents, which has worked out well.

With input from faculty, the school presents four awards reflective of students’ contributions in service, academic maturity and love of learning, embodying the mission, and serving as school ambassadors. If warranted, more than one student may receive an award. For example, last year the school gave two service awards.

In developing or altering such an event for 8th grade, Keever recommended conversing with faculty and answering questions thoughtfully. “Are students being recognized the best way? What can we do to make it special? How can we honor them?” she asked. “With awards, you need to really look at the mission and discuss them as a team.”

Even if students remain at the same school for high school, they likely will move to a different part of campus, be taught by different faculty, and perhaps make new friends among students enrolling in the high school. Expectations will change as well, and the difference between middle school and high school will crystallize. Marking this milestone recognizes students’ achievements to date and sends them off to a great start in secondary school.


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