Friday was the last day of elementary school for my fifth-grader, KJ. At breakfast, she and the other fifth graders helped the cafeteria ladies by finishing off the leftover chocolate milk and food. Desks and lockers were emptied of a year's accumulation of papers, pencils, erasers and an umbrella here and there. She assisted her teacher, Mr. Heyliger, to cover the desks with plastic so they won't get dusty over the summer. After the room was secured, the toys he'd confiscated during the year were returned to their owners.
A generous two-hour recess spent on the playground preceded another session of helping the cafeteria ladies finish off their excess groceries during lunch. The fifth-graders then returned to their classroom for final good-byes and an end-of-school party. Few refreshments were consumed, but the students had fun scribbling their names and phone numbers on each other's notebooks, T-shirts, and book bags. Before they knew it, the final bell rang.
The principal buzzed Mr. Heyliger on the intercom. "Are you ready?"
"Yes we are."
"I wanted to say that I'm very proud of every one of you. I wish each of you success in middle school next year, and throughout your life. Have a great summer. Class is dismissed."
KJ's classmates lined up and Mr. Heyliger opened the classroom door. He shook each child's hand and murmured endearments and encouragements as they exited. Most of the children glanced back over their shoulders for one last look. Several students sniffled. A few threw their arms around Mr. Heyliger as they said their farewells. KJ said Mr. Heyliger developed a sudden allergy attack because his eyes watered and his nose turned red.
A rousing cheer went up from the hall as the fifth graders poured out of their classroom. Kindergartners standing on both sides of the hallway began to clap. A pattering of applause sounded from the stairwell. The rest of the school's students lined three flights of stairs leading to the front door.
As the fifth graders made their way to the first floor, the applause blossomed into a deafening roar of enthusiastic clapping and yells of encouragement. Staff members flanked the walk down to the front gate. They stood with bowed heads as KJ and her classmates walked through the gate and left elementary school for the last time.
© 2006 Ginger Hamilton Caudill