Saturday, May 30, 2015

Finally Finals!

My freshman English class starts on their final exam.
27 May 2015

Here I stand, on the cusp of summer vacation, having survived finals week at Blue Ridge High School! Since Memorial Day was on Monday and the high school doesn't have classes on Fridays, it was only a 3-day school week. In some ways it was too short, and in some ways it was too long. Too short for grading finals, recording semester grades, packing up and shutting down a classroom, and all the other duties required to end a school year. But too long for anticipating the start of a glorious 8-week summer break!

My "Read 180" classes take their finals online.

Like most of you, I grew up with the typical Memorial Day-to-Labor Day 3-month summer vacation, so 8 weeks seems pretty short. Part of it is due to our state increasing the number of instructional days over the years, a weak attempt to balance instruction with the increased number of days spent on ridiculously copious amounts of testing. 

The plus for online testing is I don't have to grade them. The computer does it!

The other reason for such a short summer break is that our school district runs on a modified year-round calendar. That means at the end of each quarter (9 weeks), we get a full 2-week break. I love it. Two weeks in October, two weeks in December (the usual length for Christmas break), and two weeks in March. Believe me, after nine weeks of teaching, I'm ready for a nice long break! Thus I feel that a shortened summer vacation is well worth the trade-off during the school year.

Nightmarish traffic at the high school entrance 30 minutes before graduation.
29 May 2015

And, in behalf of my friends and family who work at other careers, allow me to say that I strongly feel you should get more time off, as well! I think everyone should be given at least one month of vacation per year. Other countries do it, and there's plenty of research to show that their workers more than make up for the time off with increased productivity during the other eleven months of the year. We all need time to refresh and rejuvenate from the daily grind!

The parking lots of 4 school buildings on district property were already packed.
By the end of the night, cars were pulled up on the dirt and parked among the trees!

The crowning event of the high school year is, of course, graduation. Our was held last night at 7:30. Mark and I left the house at 6:40. (Dylan, as usual, had to work.) The school is 3 miles away. We arrived at the last stop light before the school at 6:45 and found that the line of cars waiting to turn into the school entrance several blocks ahead started just on the other side of the intersection. We waited in line for almost 15 minutes before we finally turned into the high school parking lot!

Throngs of family and friends fill the stadium. By the time graduation began,
it was shoulder-to-shoulder standing room only along the fence at front.

After turning left into the entrance, an immediate right takes you into the old junior high parking lot (which is now the high school "east campus," where my classroom is located). That's where I wanted to go, but when I tried to turn right I was stopped by a volunteer officer directing traffic. There was no room in that lot, she told me. I explained that I work in that building and have my own out-of-sight parking spot there. I convinced her to let me drive back and see if it was open.

The graduates file by twos into the seating area.

Back when that building was the junior high, there was a cafeteria on the far end. Outside that cafeteria was a small, sheltered bay, barely big enough for two cars, where food trucks could back in to make their deliveries. The old cafeteria is now the library, and that little hidden bay is where Mr. Robinson (the librarian) and I park our cars each day. As luck would have it, no one had discovered my hidden space, so I parked my car, and Mark and I hoofed it to graduation, cutting through the building to save time.

Soon the field is filled with seniors-turned-graduates.
At left is Ms. D's choir, who provided great music for the evening.

It's always a pleasure to watch these youth, all bright-eyed and enthusiastic, as they prepare to leave high school behind and chase their dreams. Many are kids I've known since they were in diapers (small-town living). Many are students I've worked with since they were freshmen. Some never thought they could do it. A few are the first high school graduates in their families. Ever. Several have come to my room over the past few weeks, all choked up. "I made it, Ms. Carter. I made it. I'm graduating. You're going to be there, right?"

I wouldn't miss it for the world!

Dylan's friend Courtney was Valedictorian. Barely tall enough to see over the podium!
She's also the violinist who performed a solo at the concert I blogged on May 9th.
Her speech was very funny!

Admittedly, Blue Ridge has the longest graduation ceremony of any small school on the planet. On occasion, I hear people complain about it. I say, if you don't like it, don't come. Our seniors embrace our traditions, and this is THEIR day, THEIR ceremony. In my 25 years at Blue Ridge High, there have been a couple of attempts to make changes, but the students themselves always shout it down. They want their day in the sun. They want to be featured with their friends in their very own Senior Video, shared with their supporters at graduation. And they earned it.

Senior Video

All year long, the yearbook and photography staff create the Senior Video, which is shown on a huge screen on the field at graduation, after the sun has gone down. It adds about 20 minutes to the ceremony, but it is a remarkably precious tradition. Everyone turns their chairs and watches clips and pictures of events throughout the year. Then it winds up with a baby picture, followed by a senior picture, of each graduate. Parents carefully choose which baby pictures to submit (some of us may even have chosen those photos 15+ years before graduation arrived...), some sweet, some humorous, all adorable.

Almost as fun as seeing those baby pictures is hearing the reactions of their classmates. Soft "Awww's" for each baby picture are followed by an eruption of cheers and applause when they see who that baby grew up to be. Everyone gets a cheer. Every. Single. Student. It's amazing. And we all love it.

Dylan's friend Sam ("Sammy G") with his diploma.

Even the act of presenting diplomas is special, as the narrator tells a little something about each graduate while they cross the stage. Last night's most popular message was a girl who wrote (and the narrator, Mrs. Clark, read): "So-and-so plans to become a rich divorcee. Meanwhile, she will attend U of A and study aerodynamics..." Or something like that. I was laughing too hard at the divorcee part to hear the rest.

Dylan's friend Spencer is newly graduated, too.
We've known both these boys since they were preschoolers.

It was a beautiful, not-too-chilly night on the mountain, and a momentous occasion for some very special young people. Congratulations to all. Now, get out there and conquer the world!

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