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?