Eighth Grade “Graduation”

Tomas had his eighth grade “graduation”/celebration event last night. I didn’t know too much going into it, so I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. I’m a staunch supporter of schools and teachers, and so not attending wasn’t an option, but I still wasn’t sure exactly what would happen there.

In the end, I’d have to say my reaction ended up being quite a bit more negative than I would have anticipated. I debated even writing up a response, but often I write blog posts to make sense of things myself, and so my hope is that by writing this, I can get a bit of a better handle on why I thought it wasn’t a good event and what might be done to change it.

On the surface, I can see the reasoning behind the celebration. Get all the eighth graders together, call out their names, and have them walk across the stage to get a certificate of completion. Sure, it’s about as meaningful as preschool graduation, but at the same time, making it through middle school isn’t easy, from a social perspective. It can bring some closure to the students’ experiences, and get them hyped for high school. (I suppose?) That in and of itself isn’t anything to get worked up about. It’s an hour long event. No big deal.

But at the same time, they also handed out awards to students. And this is where I began to get uncomfortable. They don’t tell any of the students ahead of time who might win an award, and they don’t really tell students what it takes to win an award at all. There are a slew of awards handed out. Each teacher of each subject gets to give at least a couple. Some areas gave out as many as 10 or 15, as I recall. It’s what took the bulk of the hour to do.

And the whole time they were doing it, I couldn’t help but do the math. There were around 150 students in the audience that evening. I’d guess there were about 50 awards given out (maybe less?). Some people got multiple awards. Some kids as many as five or six, I’d guess. So perhaps 30 of the students got an award. 20%. Which means that 80% of the students sat there the whole time, wondering if they might get an award, but ultimately getting nothing but the piece of paper that says they successfully finished eighth grade.

Which on the surface shouldn’t upset me, should it? I mean, I don’t believe in giving out awards to everybody. I’m all for recognizing hard work and effort. If everyone gets an award, then it’s about the same as no one getting an award.

But when the criteria for getting the awards are so fuzzy, things begin to blur. From an outsider’s perspective, it began to seem more and more like the teachers picked who would get the award for their class was by picking their favorite students in their class. Which, okay fine. Each teacher will have students they connected with more. Or who they felt really went above and beyond.

(And in case you think this is about me having sour grapes Tomas didn’t get an award, it isn’t. He got one. I’m proud of him, but still very uncomfortable with what went on.)

This is middle school. Rough times, indeed. And for 80% of the students, their night was taken up watching all sorts of other kids get picked over them. And the whole time, they might have been thinking, “Maybe this award will be one I get.” Because they weren’t all even academic. There were awards for PE, School Spirit, Most Improved, Art, Health, Community, and more.

That’s a lot of rejection to get in one evening, in my opinion.

How could this be changed? Well, they might switch things around to recognize groups of students. “Students who got an A in Science, please stand.” “Students who played a sport, please stand.” “Students who were on the robotics team, please stand.” The criteria there would be much clearer, so kids wouldn’t feel like they were losing anything or getting passed over for anything, and yet the ones who made extra effort in areas could still be recognized.

On the other hand they could also make it an invitation event, where students who won an award are invited to attend with their families. Then at least every student who’s there knows they’re winning something, and the “rejection” of the other students isn’t as obvious.

They could still hand out the awards, but do it when they send out report cards. So the student knows they did well, the parents do too, and yet there’s no public shaming of the ones who were passed over.

I think the evening was supposed to be a celebration. A last chance for teachers to recognize students. But because of the way it’s organized, it turns into a last chance for 80% of the students to leave middle school with a bitter feeling. “I thought Mr. _______ liked me a lot, but I guess he didn’t like me enough to give me an award.”

Once again, this is my personal feeling. It’s not based on any discussion I had with any middle schooler. They’re just the thoughts I had running through my head during the awards, and hours after. I wonder if I was the only person thinking them.

In the end, I’m just not convinced the price of the event (hurt feelings for 80% of the class) is worth the reward (recognizing the other 20%).

What do you think?

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5 thoughts on “Eighth Grade “Graduation””

  1. Karla Burkhart

    As a former teacher, I agree with your feelings. I don’t think even those who receive nebulous awards feel really good about it because what if they don’t get one next time?

  2. I am 100% with you on this. I have nine children (all now adults), all of them wonderful and smart, but not all of them were achievers in public school. In fact, MOST of them were NOT. The one who did get lots of these academic achievement awards did, in fact, study hard, probably a lot harder than her siblings. She deserved what she got. But the pain and shame that the others received at these type of events, when they were excluded from the cheers and applause, was really, really hard to take. It was hard for them, it was hard for me as a parent. Painful. I would give almost anything to have this type of experience in schools be a thing of the past.
    The thing that is so interesting to me, now that I have decades placed between then and now, is that EVERY ONE of our children has succeeded, despite their poor showings in high school (it was mostly in high school that they drifted away into mediocre-land). They became educated and skilled in something once they were motivated and interested in it. They all support themselves. They are contributing members of society. They have succeeded. But their success came in its own time. You could say they were “late bloomers”, some of them blooming just before the first fall frost, so to speak. I think (again, with the perspective of time) that it doesn’t matter if they are the crocus and the snowdrop or the late purple asters. They shine when they are ready. And we need to love them and cheer them on through their journey. And wait for the day when they realize how accomplished and wonderful they are.

  3. Thank you for this! I didn’t want to say anything at the risk of sounding salty because my kid did not receive an award last night, but the whole thing unsettled me. What a way to end a long hard 3 years in middle school! Just one more knock to the ego on the way out! I’m not for giving everyone awards, but something about this just didn’t feel right. Maybe it’s the age?

    I’ve got one leaving the middle shcool and one entering next year. These last couple of years have really made me wonder why we do a lot of things the way we do them in that school. Why the looping and separating into communities? Why don’t we run it like a mini high school and let them develop relationships with lots of students and teachers? The “communities” didn’t feel right when I attended shcool there, and it feels the same now, watching my kids go through it.

    I LOVE our schools and students. I just think we could take a second look at the middle school and see how we could better serve these kids.

  4. I agree with you! I would’ve been one of the 80%. I never excelled in school and collected recognition certificates or special rewards. But, I finished high school (graduated 44 years ago today at my first graduation ceremony), college, earned a master’s degree and have worked long enough to retire soon. I’ve lived long enough to know that early stuff wasn’t really all hat important.

  5. Thanks all. I was surprised to see how many people felt the same way I did. Makes me wonder why schools are still doing this.

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