The brain likes clean beginnings and clean endings . . . and, calendar check, the end of the year is quickly approaching! Questions begin to form in my mind: Will all the curriculum get covered? Will the assessments and report cards be completed on time? Did I make a difference? Despite all the year-end chaos, it is important to take time to celebrate the educational and emotional journey you and your students will soon be completing. After all, that last day of school can be like a divorce for students who find a haven of belonging and structure at school.
In the course of my teaching career, I have ended the year in a variety of ways. Below are some of my favorites. I tweaked a few to accommodate the entertainment theme I used in my classroom this year.
During this big night we celebrate the students' accomplishments. They give each other many awards, and I authentically highlight the contributions that each student has brought to our classroom. Unlike Poetry Night, which is centered on the parental audience, this night has a 100% student focus. I do highly encourage the parents to be in attendance to witness the magic of the connections that were formed in our classroom. Plus we throw in a dance number or two to make it fun. Add a dessert table and some beverages, and you have a nice little party. Awards that are given out include the following:
- Academic Honors
- Perfect Attendance
- Science Olympiad
- Service Squad, Safety Squad
- Student Council
- Life Skills Awards: Using SurveyMonkey (a great free, online survey tool) I have the students vote for their classroom role models in a range of life skills (trustworthiness, integrity, 212, etc.). You can see my classroom role models survey. I type up a description of the life skill on an envelope. I then have presenters read the description and tear open the envelope in true Academy Award style to see who gets the award. Usually there is a boy and a girl recipient for each life skill.
- Mock Election Awards: Again, using SurveyMonkey, the classmates vote on these silly awards. For example, the best smile, best person to tell a secret to, etc. (You can see this survey underneath the role models survey above.) Again, there is usually a boy and a girl recipient.
- ME Awards: I come up with a special award for each student that captures their essence. One by one I call them to the stage and give a sincere description of their contributions to our class and the future of the world. One student with extreme perseverance may get "The Little Engine That Could Award" and one with great oratory skills may get "The Oprah Winfrey Award." This is my favorite part of the night.
Final Curtain Call
This is the last day of school. No parents. No visitors. Just us. On the eve of the last day of school, I remove everything from the room. Desks, chairs, decorations, everything I can. My aim is to have the room looking exactly opposite of how it looked the first day of school.
When the students enter, they are often in shock. Some cry. We talk about our high moments and low moments from the year. We watch a DVD of our classroom journey. And then we solidify the message that it wasn't the decorations or music that made this year what it was. Rather, it was the people in the room. After about two boxes of tissues, we are ready to play some of our favorite games from the year. A few happy dance numbers and the students are ready to begin the summer break.
Year-End Inspirational Stories
At the end of the Academy Awards and during the FInal Curtain Call, I try to send the students off with an inspirational story. Visit the Web sites below for some of my favorite stories.
- "The Butterfly" — Struggling is essential for growth.
- "The Starfish" — You can make a difference.
- "The Dash" — Spend your time wisely.
- "The Gem Story" — Gather all the wisdom you can. (See p. 43 of the pdf file.)
Each year I leave the students with a physical memory of the year to treasure.
- Gems to go with the "The Gem" story (above) can be bought at craft stores like Michael's. It costs about $5–$10 for each student to have one.
- Starfish to go with "The Starfish" poem can be bought at craft stores or through Oriental Trading Co. Again, it costs about $5–$10 to buy one for each student.
- Gold medals engraved with our class motto on the back are a must during a year with an Olympic theme. About $4 per medal.
- Trophies engraved with our class motto go best with the entertainment theme. About $5 per award.
- Pens with our class motto on it. About $1.50 per pen.
- Denim backpacks with our 2i2 logo patch sewn on it. $20 per dozen.
- T-shirts customized with our logo. Usually you can find a deal for about $5 per shirt.
- Memory Walk — Each week throughout the year we create a mind map on a large Post-It note. This mind map captures the essence of that week's lessons and personal milestones. I save all of these oversized pieces of paper and place them around the room in chronological order on the last Monday of school. I put on some sappy music as they walk around and reflect upon the year quietly amongst themselves. Usually there are a few tears as some strong memories resurface. We share our favorite memories with each other.
- Memory Walk Alternative — Have the students create a huge mind map on the front board. This mind map should include all their favorite lessons and memories from the year. Take a picture of it and give it to the students on the last day of school.
- Auction — After the Memory Walk, I auction off the weekly mind maps from the year. Some very popular ones, such as the maps from Poetry Night and Christmas Day, go for top dollar. What do I use for cash? We use tickets given out for good behavior, leftover "Oops" passes not used for missing assignments, extra credit coupons that were earned but not utilized, etc. Any classroom reward system can be adapted to this auction idea. In the auction I also throw in some items that I won't be using the following year.
Feel free to borrow any of these ideas. However, if you are a teacher in my building, I respectfully ask that you allow this method of wrapping up a year to remain a solid 4th grade memory.