Out in the garden on the morning of the last day of school before classes began, the wind ruffled the petals of the sunflowers. I noticed that one of the sunflowers had the shape of a heart right in the middle of it where the seeds would soon begin to form. How appropriate, I thought. It was quiet out in the sun-filled garden in the morning hush, but I knew the surrounding playground would soon be a swirl of sound and emotion. It would only be a half-day for the kids, and then they would be free for the summer.
Today, elementary school would end for the sixth graders in the school in which I teach. When it was time to go, all the younger kids lined the hallways, clapping for the sixth graders who were walking through the school as students for the last time. I almost made it without crying, winding through the hallways dry-eyed until I neared the front door. Then I made the “mistake” of looking back at my school kids one more time when they were still “mine.” At least three of my boys had tears streaming down their faces, and that was it for me. It’s always the boys that make me feel extra emotional, probably because it is so unusual to see them cry. My eyes blurred with tears, and I couldn’t help sobbing when I stopped outside and hugged everyone goodbye, one by one. I’d spent every school day for the last 10 months with them, and I felt more than a tenuous attachment to them. Not only were they physically stepping out the door of the elementary school for the last time, their hearts fluttering like the wings of small birds, they were stepping into the next stage of their lives. For them, it was a scary, bittersweet, truthful moment, but one filled with the hope and eager anticipation of what will come next. For me it was the sweet-sad ending to a good year with a nice group of kids, some of whom I might never see again.
I remembered on the first day of school some of the boys sitting in their seats, near their friends, smirking at each other, wanting to see how far they could push their new teacher, see how much they could get away with. Little did they know how they would dissolve into tears on the last day of school at the reality of leaving me. I heard, “I don’t want to leave you!” so many times, and from so many kids. But I also know that now, after school, their tears are forgotten, they are already hanging out with their friends and classmates, looking forward to junior high next year. That is what they should be doing, enjoying the moment.
After the sixth graders left with their parents, I went out to take some of the other kids to the buses. The same little kids that walked with me out to the bus last year at this time did so again today. I noticed how much they’d grown up since we did this walk together a year ago. Surprisingly, I noticed more sad faces than happy ones, and the twin boys that are always with me at the front of the line had tears running down their cute faces as well. I remembered my days as a student in elementary school when we couldn’t get out of the doors fast enough on the last day, laughing and screaming because we were free for the summer. How times have changed, it seems.
The kids boarded their school buses, and the driver of the very last bus that arrived remarked, “What do you guys do to these kids? None of my other schools have kids that are crying!” He was joking, but then I thought about it as I slowly walked back to the school. Our kids must feel the environment of safety, love, and success that we give them at our school. That is the amazing, extraordinary thing that I have felt every year of the 15 years our school has been open – we have always been a loving, caring community of adults who all work hard together to give our kids the best they can get for success in life. No matter what their home life is like, they can trust that our school is a good place for them.
The day ended with me in the garden again, this time I was watering the sunflowers and other plants after everyone had gone, listening to a pool party going on over on the other side of the block fence. I heard the Macarena being played and thought they’re still playing that old thing? I smiled to myself. It was obviously older kids, having a good time. See? The school year forgotten already, the summer is before them, and now they can relax and recharge, just as the teachers will do.
We are all tired now, but content, going through our paperwork and making plans for next year, cleaning up our rooms. The end of May gives us closure to another whirlwind school year. When August comes, the circle begins with a new group of kids, and by then I will be ready to do it all again.