I really don't remember the first time I started attending graduations, or sixth grade promotions by choice. I had attended them many times before but those were of the mandatory type. It was later that they became part of my yearly routine, attending simply because I wanted to.
I went to one last week. I was the guest of Dr. Lowell Billings, the Chula Vista Schools Superintendent and Principal Gloria McKearney who heads up Valley Vista School.
We, along with a couple of hundred parents, other relatives and friends saw 87 sixth graders make the transition from the relative confines and safety of elementary school to the uncertainty of middle school.
Valley Vista school is a relatively recent addition to the many fine educational institutions in the Sweetwater Valley. It is the one situated on what one would call the Western border of the valley. Built in 1968 it has been the educational cornerstone for some 550 children each year and has been one of the outstanding schools in the district.
Back in my day — and perhaps even today — we used to insist that leaving the sixth grade was a promotion to a higher grade, even if it meant going to a higher school.
Teachers and others tried to keep it low key, not a big deal, so to speak, to emphasize the fact that school for those youngsters was not by any chance over, that there was still quite a deal more to come. In spite of this emphasis it did not work. The sixth graders were excited, the parents were pleased, and the teachers, in the end, probably said, let’s go for it.
And when we get right down to it, they are right. This is a big deal. This is an accomplishment, the first in the long road to a complete education.
Let’s look back at that sixth grader seven years ago. The classroom speakers, Danika Miranda, Sacha Hudson and Asuncion Hampson-Medina all alluded to the time when they were kindergartners.
The child was scared to death. He or she knew nothing, or very little. They knew nobody except maybe that kid who lived across the street and was in the same class as they.
I think that any parent reading this can look back on the time they dropped the kindergartner off for the first day and said to themselves, “My goodness, what kind of a parent am I, subjecting this little kid to this torture?”
But we know that the child survived. In addition to that he learned. What was unintelligible writing on a book became words that he understood, what were those numbers that he had learned to count became meaningful symbols that he could piece together and arrive at a mathematical solution. What happened really — at least to my way of thinking — was a mastery of the mysteries of elementary school, probably the most important segment of the student’s educational career.
There are, of course, many other facets in the sixth grader’s quest for learning.
Billings, in his talk to the students and parents hit on some of these. He cautions about the entry to the middle school where the student is going to come across students from other schools. The sixth grader made friends in his elementary school. They should continue to be friends in the middle school. One’s peers, selected at an early age, are more apt to give that positive motivation that one so desperately needs in those growing up years.
The graduating class at Valley Vista seems to be an exceptional class. Of the 87 students receiving their promotion the other day, 22 of them received the Presidential Award for Excellence. Twenty two others obtained the Presidential Award for Achievement. These are pupils who not only met the highest achievement on standardized tests but also demonstrated high motivation in the balance of their achievements.
Much credit for this must be given to Rita Corder, Pam Lee and Bryan Wallbank, the sixth grade teachers who guided them through their final year. They should be lauded for a job well done.
There was some sadness involved when it was learned that this has been Principal McKearney’s last year at the school.
She is transferring over to Olympic View School. Superintendent Billings, by the way, left this week for an extended stay in the wilds of Africa hunting game. We will hear more of this when he returns.
As for all the six graders, their parents and teachers — enjoy the summer. You earned it.