The Clap Out

We moved to 6 blocks into Shaker Heights just before Maggie started kindergarten so that our kids could go to the Shaker schools.

The Shaker schools do so many things right but one of my favorites are their transitions from one stage to another.

Every school has high school graduation and every high school and college graduation everywhere has some speech reminding students that the exercise is called “commencement” because it celebrates a beginning and not an ending.

As much as commencements are about looking forward – they also are a time to look back.

This year was the year that Elena would have graduated from high school. Well, she would have graduated if she had progressed successfully from year to year and completed all that she was expected to complete.

Although Kim and I joked that we were likely to get a call from Maggie from jail telling us she didn’t have enough bail money to bail Elena out – we really expected her to graduate on time. Of course, that was when we looked way too far into the future. Elena died before the end of her first grade year.

Kim talked about what it would be like for us after Elena graduated and went off to start college the same year Maggie would be finishing college some where.

That was before Elena died.

And also before Kim died.

But this isn’t about death. It’s about transitions. It’s about those little things that the Shaker schools does to help mark and ease the transition from one stage to the next.

There’s kindergarten orientation.

I took both Maggie and Elena to their kindergarten orientations where they met with their teacher and a handful of other kids before school started to get a feel for the classroom and to build confidence and familiarity before the first day.

Kim always volunteered to help with the orientation. She and the other volunteers welcomed parents and kids to the school. She was part of this first transition to the schools.

Kindergarten starts the day after the day on which all of the other elementary classes begin at Shaker. The first through fourth graders meet on the lawn outside the school and then walk in to their classrooms.

The second through fourth graders are old hands at this. They find their new teachers and can’t wait for the year to begin.

The transition from kindergarten to first grade is a big enough step that Shaker has a tradition for that as well. The first graders find their kindergarten teacher that they spent the previous year with and the kindergarten teacher walks them over to their first grade teacher.

The elementary schools are K-4 and all of the fifth graders come together in a single building. So fourth grade is the first time that students will move from the school they spent the past five years in. They go from being at the top of the school with a relatively small number of peers to the youngest in a much larger school.

One of my favorite traditions is on the last day of school when the fourth graders are going to leave their elementary school for the last time.

The clap out.

The younger four grades, Kindergarten through third grade, line the halls and clap as the fourth graders parade through the halls and out the doors for the last time. The younger kids look up to these older students who are moving on – commencing a new phase – and the older students leave feeling great and appreciated.

Maggie was clapped out at Boulevard school a few months after her sister died.

Elena was never clapped out of Boulevard school – until now.

This year Shaker schools started a new tradition.

The graduating seniors put on caps and gowns and were bussed back to their elementary schools.

It’s inspiring for these elementary students to see these big kids tell them, “we went here”, “we were you”, “this is who we are now”.

I remember my first teaching job at Newton North High School. I had some hearing impaired kids in a couple of my classes. As I taught, signers stood near me and signed for these kids.

One of the kids told me that when he was little he never saw a deaf adult. He assumed that being deaf meant he was going to die soon. He never saw older people who were like him.

I imagine him seeing someone like him in a cap and gown coming back to his elementary school to show him the promise and the future and what it might mean.

In Shaker the elementary students clapped out the graduating seniors who had once gone to their elementary school. They sent them out to the world.

I don’t know who decided to do it, but the seniors who returned to Boulevard elementary school all wore yellow ribbons with Elena’s name on it.

I can’t tell you how much that means to me.

To whomever thought to do this – thank you.

To all of the seniors who carried Elena with them as they walked through the halls of Boulevard – thank you.

This helped me with an important transition this year that Elena would have graduated.

Elena was clapped out with the class she would have graduated with.

Published in: on June 5, 2017 at 9:28 am  Comments (1)  

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One CommentLeave a comment

  1. I am not sure if you were aware, Elena’s name with another student and a teacher were read aloud in Memoriam with a moment of silence by the principal at graduation last Friday night.
    I thought of Kim and Elena all week and how they were missing. Missing Kim daily, Andree

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