Marking the Scholarly Milestones

When a child leaves kindergarten or preschool behind, it’s worth taking a moment to acknowledge that a milestone has been met. Sure, it’s only kindergarten – as their big brother or sister will inevitably insist. But a sense of completion and moving forward is important to kids at every step along the way.
For the littlest graduates, it doesn’t have to be much. It may be enough just to take your child out for ice cream, serve a special dessert at supper, or present him with a bouquet of handpicked flowers.
At one recent preschool graduation, the children were called upon one by one to stand and announce where they would be attending kindergarten. The kids had been coached about standing and speaking aloud all year, which made it a natural culmination.
“Also, every child in the class got a memory book, full of artwork and photos from the year,” says Donna Noyman, mother of two boys, ages 4 and 6.
These memory books might include a special note from Mom or Dad, as well as a class photo. Kids treasure these books, often looking at them many months – or even years – later.
In most cases, the more modest the ceremony, the better for everyone. One Palo Alto mom complained that her son’s preschool “promotion” ceremony (from the 3- and 4-year-old group) ran nearly two hours long. The children performed songs, gave readings and were recognized one by one. It was all lovely in theory – but a little much for the attention spans of most 3-year-olds, not to mention their parents and squirming siblings.
Keeping It Simple
In elementary school, many families and schools continue to keep the celebration simple.
Noah Michels graduated this year from 5th grade at Los Alamitos Elementary in San Jose. When his mother, Debbie, asked how he’d like to observe the milestone, his response delighted her. He said he wanted to spend a day with the family – mom, dad and brother – at a San Francisco Giants game.
As for a graduation gift, he wanted the same thing every middle schooler wants: a cell phone.
Madeleine Smeets, whose younger son just completed 6th grade, says her family will probably head out to a local restaurant for a celebratory dinner. When Mark graduated from elementary school, the 4th grade parents at his Palo Alto school organized a party in the park, complete with balloons, cookies and drinks for 100 students who were all called up to get their certificate one by one.
“It took a long time,” Smeets recalls. “Every child had to write something down about their best memory of the school, and then get up and say what it was.”
When her older son, Lucas, graduates this year from Jordan Middle School, it will be with a big bang, beginning with an official ceremony and ending with an elaborate themed party.
“The parents throw it for the [graduates] every year,” says Smeets, who expects to volunteer at the event, a $33-per-student affair, which involves decorations and disco music.
Economy Tamps Expectations 
Years ago, when Dustin Young’s big sisters – now 20 and 24 – graduated from 8th grade, some students threw big bashes and even rode to and from graduation ceremonies in limousines.
His mom, Darby, doesn’t see that happening this year. Families are cutting back due to the recession. And that’s fine with her. Elaborate festivities seem excessive for an 8th grade graduation.  “If you start with limousines, what is there to rise to?” she says. “I like to keep it casual in 8th grade because there are bigger graduations in life.”
Shana Moore, PTA president of Dustin’s school, Castillero Middle School in San Jose, is hearing much the same thing. “I think the mindset is: We’re in a recession and shouldn’t go over the top – and 8th grade is not an over-the-top accomplishment anyway,” says Moore, whose daughter, Tori, is graduating with Dustin.
Academic Challenges to Come 
The real test is in high school and college, Moore and Young say, where youth face bigger social and academic challenges and have more independence and choice about academics – including whether they’ll even stay in school.
Almost all California kids do graduate 8th grade, but that’s not the case with high school. Nearly one fifth of the state’s high school students drop out between their freshman and senior years, according to a 2009 state Department of Education report.
Still, teachers and parents at Castillero Middle School do want to observe the milestone for their 8th-graders and have planned four special events for them: An honors assembly for those with specific achievements, a Monte Carlo-themed dance (though lacking in the casino games), a trip to Great America – and graduation ceremony in the HP Pavilion. The Pavilion donates the space to schools needing a graduation venue.
With plenty of excitement at school, the Young family will keep the festivities at home to a minimum and celebrate with Dustin at his family’s favorite pizza parlor, Young says.
Moore says she and her husband, Russ, also have a simple plan for Tori later this summer – one that won’t emphasize her past achievements so much as her future.
“Our plan is to take her (leaving her younger sister with her grandparents) up to San Francisco to spend one night and another day in the city taking in a show, a nice dinner, and a visit to the de Young Museum,” Moore says.
“We will raise a glass to her future and subtly work in the message that her life, now more than ever, is hers to make for herself through the choices she makes both academically and socially.
“I want her to feel excited and inspired to move forward,” Moore continues. “And I want her to understand how much things count from now on.”
Sara Solovitch is an associate editor of Bay Area Parent. Melanie Norall and Angela Geiser contributed to this article.

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