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May 27, 2008

Graduation: The Great Debate

If you’re looking for a great debate get a group of pre-k teachers together and mention the word “graduation”. The two camps in this argument are evenly divided: those who are in favor of graduation ceremonies for pre-k students - generally the parents, and those who are against them - usually us teachers.

Having taught pre-k in both public school and several Head Start campuses over the years, I have seen it all when it comes to end-of-the-year celebrations. At Head Start we had a picnic where families were invited to spend the day with their child and enjoy a cookout on the last day of school. On one campus in my current district, we had a huge and elaborate graduation ceremony with performances, diplomas, caps, and refreshments. In another former job, we had a simple, low-key “awards ceremony” where students received a diploma - sans caps, performances, and refreshments.

Personally, I prefer the picnic over all the other forms of celebrations because it is the most meaningful and least stressful to all parties involved. When it comes to formal graduation ceremonies, the stress levels are high for both teachers and students. Instructional time is wasted on practicing the performances and young children get stressed and nervous about performing on stage. Teachers are under enormous amounts of pressure to deliver a good performance and “wow” the audience. All this stress added to our already hectic, end-of-the-year, deadline laden schedule.

On the other hand, it is the parents who want to experience the traditional graduation milestone, no matter how early, in their child’s life. The pressure from parents to have elaborate graduation ceremonies, especially in areas of high poverty and rising drop-out rates, is enormous.  Many of these parents have never experienced a graduation of their own and are anxious for their children to experience as many as possible. They want to invite grandparents and videotape the memorable event. Some private schools also put on grandeous graduation ceremonies to show the parents what they are paying for, and at this point in the game, many parents expect it.

Whatever your situation, I encourage you to make your end-of-the-year choices based on what is the most meaningful to the students.  With a school of over 700 students we have to do what works best for our huge numbers. An all school picnic wouldn’t have enough parking or space for all the parents. With no trees or shade to speak of on the playground, an air-conditioned, indoor awards ceremony, without the pomp and circumstance of performances, is our best alternative.

What are you doing to wrap up the year in your pre-k classroom?

Comments

Last year (my first year as a pre-k techer) we did the huge graduation, with caps and performances and all that. The kids were antsy the whole time, and I spent more time trying to control them than I did enjoying the ceremony. This year we opted to do an open house. Parents are invited to come to school at 9am, and participate in our morning routine (calendar, circle time, snack, etc.) and at 10 we will have a very casual presentation of the certificates and the kids will perform a sign language song they've learned during the year. After that parents are free to look through the rooms, talk with the teachers, and take pictures. My hope is that this is less stressful than the big to-do from last year.
I love your blog- it's given me lots of inspiration and great ideas :)

Each year I've taught, my students have hosted their own kindergarten celebration. Parents come in to observe what has basically been our "opening/calendar" and "show and share" routine all year. We sing, read, and I pass out photo certificates with before/after photos and special thoughts and appreciation written about each student. Parents get their photo op, time in our room, the opportunity to swap phone numbers for summer play dates, and we end with a picnic or potluck meal, with time to visit with everyone.

It's a special day, with kids wearing their favorite outfit, but no caps or gowns, singing their choice of songs, listening to a favorite story. In my mind, it's about my soon-to-be first graders (and remember, there's even retention in kindergarten in some states now!).

My daughter's kindergarten class had the elaborate graduation ceremony and I admit it was very nice for me as a parent, but I know she had been practicing for two months and it must have been very stressful for the teacher. In my pre-k classroom with children with disabilities, we took the children's pictures each in a borrowed cap and gown, made a nice frame for them to give to the parents, give them a certificate, and invite the parents on the last day for ice cream and to watch a slide show my technically proficient aide made with the pictures we took throughout the year. Our last day is June 6th, I hope it goes well!

"Instructional time is wasted on practicing the performances and young children get stressed and nervous about performing on stage."

We have had this debate in our four pre-k classes and chosen not to do a ceremony before our current principal made the decision for us.
I guess the idea I take issue with is the statement above.

The songs we are performing this year, "The Alphabet of Nations" by they Might Be Giants and "I'll Rise" by Ben Harper both grew out of our classroom experience so the practice was not as much of an issue. The practice was part of our daily routine of music and movement. I don't feel like we "wasted time" practicing because "the performance" is part of what I see as my instructional responsibility. I am charged with developing in my students self confidence and belief in themselves and performing is one fun way that I can do that. Also, in the community I work in, "the performance" is part of parents' expectation for what a child should learn in school. It is not really about getting the songs right so much as creating the situation where students learn to draw in their inner courage to step out in front of their community and become "leaders". So I guess, even though it means more work for me, I fall on the side of the end of year performance. I am not however in favor of caps, gowns, and diplomas. These are the parents of th ceremony that are only for the parents, not the students. If you ask a child, "do you want to walk on stage and get this rolled up piece of blank paper?" the answer is no. If you ask them, "Do you want to go on stage and dance and sing?" the answer would likely be yes.

I have a mixed class of twenty 3's and 4's. This was our first official Pre-K year due to a grant we received from our state. So, with that said, more was expected of us from our own organization (more like PR for the program-I felt). But, I don't like the idea of a "graduation," because in my case, it would have singled out one group of students. All my student's worked very hard this year and deserved to be recognized. We had "A Celebration of Success." And yes, it was a program with children on makeshift risers made from milk crates, tied together. We had to rent chairs for 70 people, had it in our preschool room that we cleared out. The children sang songs they already knew, showed a slide show with music and presented them all with certificates of success. We also presented moms (families) with carnations as a thank you for supporting our new program. Of course, light refreshments afterward. The parents LOVED it and so did the children who got to be front and center. My opinion is that ceremony is for the parents. I have been a parent, sitting in her child's preschool graduation, and the pride is unexplainable. But when I saw the look on the face of the one little girl, whose mother is the one who never participates in any extra activities (or much in her life for that matter), getting that attention and applause for those few seconds. It was worth all my time and stress.

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