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Archive for Monday, October 18, 2010

Lawrence schools work to uphold traditions

Jaiden Younger and Dana Rath, both fifth-graders at Cordley School, read the morning announcements on Friday.  This task is usually done by sixth-graders, but fifth-graders are also getting a chance to make announcements since they will not be at the elementary school next year when middle schools replace junior highs.

Jaiden Younger and Dana Rath, both fifth-graders at Cordley School, read the morning announcements on Friday. This task is usually done by sixth-graders, but fifth-graders are also getting a chance to make announcements since they will not be at the elementary school next year when middle schools replace junior highs.

October 18, 2010

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Dana Rath and Jaiden Younger read the announcements

The fifth-graders from Cordley School are taking part in a daily tradition. Enlarge video

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School traditions ( .PDF )

Dana Rath and Jaiden Younger qualify as bonafide trailblazers, helping fortify a solid foundation for future generations by sharing information, strengthening character and spreading influence through a high-profile dose of public speaking.

That’s right: This year, for the first time in history, these and other fifth-graders deliver morning announcements at Cordley School.

“Good morning, Cordley Hawks,” Dana intones into the old-fashioned microphone for a ’50s-era Dukane intercom system. “Today is a ‘B’ day...”

Everyone in the building — from staffers with decades of experience to students in kindergarten through sixth grades — sit transfixed, listening to the latest news: the day’s lunch menu, the Word of the Morning and whatever else can be squeezed into a minute-long presentation.

“Here’s today’s interesting fact: The first telephone book was one page long and only had 50 names on it,” Jaiden says, holding their collective script. “At this time would you please stand for the pledge...”

Such scenes are repeating themselves throughout the Lawrence school district these days, as principals, teachers and parents work to ensure traditions — Deerfield’s last-day, Kennedy’s tug-of-war, Langston Hughes’ ski trip — don’t get lost in what promises to be one of the biggest operational reconfigurations in memory.

Next school year the district’s 15 elementary schools will no longer have sixth-graders, because that level will have been moved up to turn the district’s four junior highs into middle schools — with those schools’ ninth-grade levels being shifted into Lawrence and Free State high schools.

That’s why old traditions are being preserved and new ones forged.

‘Ceremony matters’

All students “moving on” to another grade at another school deserve memories to take with them, leaders say, such as the ones fifth-graders like Dana and Jaiden will retain by doing announcements just as sixth-graders have.

Schools are busy planning end-of-year recognitions, field trips, parties and other events and programs to give all students moving on — this year’s fifth- and sixth-graders at the elementary level, and eighth- and ninth-graders at the junior high level — a chance to remember.

“Ceremony matters,” said Scott Morgan, a member of the Lawrence school board, who lauds school officials for thinking ahead on such planning. “That’s part of who we are.”

Kim Bodensteiner, who has been a leader in the district’s transition planning, couldn’t imagine not addressing such questions of tradition.

“They are the things that are in all our scrapbooks and photo albums,” the district’s chief academic officer said, noting that such memories linger for years.

Fifth-graders at Sunset Hill School will get special T-shirts, attend an etiquette lunch, visit West Junior High School, serve as emcees for the school variety show and pick up awards during a recognition ceremony, just like their fellow sixth-graders.

“It’s ownership,” Principal Chris Bay said. “It’s celebration. It’s pride.”

But instead of getting the chance to play basketball against teachers and staffers — a tradition born a decade ago for sixth-graders — Sunset Hill’s fifth-graders will have to settle for a titanic battle of a different sort.

“We just didn’t think it was developmentally appropriate or fair to play fifth-graders in basketball,” Bay said. “We decided to make it a kickball game. It’s more in the spirit of the game.”

Making memories

Some spirit. For 10 years now, teachers have brought two T-shirts to the hoops classic: One declaring that staffers beat the students, and another boasting that students beat the staffers.

“The ‘students winning’ T-shirt has never been worn,” Bay said, with pride. “We’ve had some years where they’ve come close, within 10 points.”

Turns out tradition has its limits.

“Although the tradition of staff-versus-student basketball will be ending this year, the tradition of winning kickball” — as in the staff winning at kickball — “is a new tradition,” Bay said.

The smack talk is all in good fun. Kids pester him all year about the coming competitions, and he finds it comforting that there now are twice as many kids looking ahead to lining up against the adults.

“Most of what we do is memory making,” Bay said. “We want to teach them reading and math, but a lot of what elementary school is about is memory making. We want our fifth-graders to have every similar opportunity that our sixth-graders will have.”

Students like Dana and Jaiden, over at Cordley, are embracing the opportunities.

“It’s pretty cool,” Jaiden says, heading back to class after announcements.

Adds Dana: “I think every single grade should get a chance to do it.”

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