Seattle's Child

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Elementary and middle school ending with a whimper (and a meh) for Seattle-area kids

In addition to the usual festivities surrounding high-school seniors, there often are events marking the end of elementary and middle school. Do the kids care?

While high school kids are missing out on graduation ceremonies and college visits and proms because of the current global pandemic, younger kids are missing out on meaningful rituals too.

Instead of having small ceremonies during the day with parents and their classmates, these kids also aren’t getting to mark the transition to middle school and high school with anything much at all.

I was curious. How are my own two sons, who are set to graduate from fifth and eighth grade this spring, feeling about these changes — about the loss of their coming-of-age rituals?

“Meh,” said the eighth-grader.

“Meh,” said the fifth-grader.

“Mom, it’s like, not a big deal at all,” said the older one, in between shooting at stuff in Fortnite.

I decided to find some other kids, who might be somewhat more sensitive, and check in with them.

“I don’t really think it matters that much,” said Charlie Rivera, an eighth-grader at Hamilton Middle School, who thinks eighth-grade graduations are “kind of dumb,” anyway.

These days, he does get to stay in touch with friends over Xbox and calls.

“No one really cares too much about my school and graduation,” explained Charlie.

But then I did find some kids who realize they will be missing out on some fun this year.

Isabel Hernandez, a fifth-grader at West Woodland Elementary in Ballard, would have liked to have been there for some of the fun stuff for elementary graduates.

“Usually, we would have a big slideshow on the last day of school with pictures of all the fifth-grade students, and we’d just have like a big party with all of our friends there,” she said. “Sometimes, teachers would talk, and students would come up and talk, and it was supposed to be really fun.”

She was also sad to be missing out on another ritual for Seattle Public Schools students: the annual multiple-night school camping trip. (Hers wasn’t set to happen until this month.)

Alice Chen, a fifth-grader in Redmond, notes that her grade is missing out on a big musical at school and a fun run, as well as the graduation day itself.

“I kind of was looking forward to it because it’s a half-day and it’s fun,” she said. “And then all the fourth-graders have to serve cake, which is hilarious.” (The usual event includes kids giving speeches about leaving the school.)

Ethan, a Lake City eighth-grader soon leaving Hazel Wolf K-8 STEM School, is not going to miss this shutdown when it’s over.

“I’m going insane,” he said. “Mostly, I just play with the dogs and read but I really miss hanging out with my friends and doing sports and stuff.”

He wasn’t too upset about the missed graduation, but he can’t wait to see his friends again. And school. Does he miss that?

“Not like the school-school part, but being able to be in contact with my friends — and I get to see somebody face to face,” he said.

Quincy Costello, a Bellevue fifth-grader, doesn’t think he’ll be missing much on his actual graduation day. “They only do, like, an assembly,” said Quincy. “It’s not that important, I don’t think. It’s just a celebration.”

While he’s not disappointed about missing field day, he was looking forward to an upcoming field trip on a boat with a scuba diver-cameraman broadcasting what he was seeing to the passengers.

But as far as what’s happening for all kids right now, he realizes he’s lucky.

“It’s not good, but it’s not too bad because you can still socialize with people online, but for the people that don’t have access to online activity, they can’t do it so it must be really hard for them,” said Quincy.

“To me, and what I have access to, it’s not that bad, but I would rather have school open again.”

More on COVID-era education:

Some families loving at-home learning
Why I bought a ‘proud parent of a graduate’ yard sign
Struggling with trying to teach your kids? Here’s help

About the Author

Jillian O'Connor

Jillian O’Connor is a longtime newspaper and magazine journalist. She lives in Seattle with her husband, two sons and a dog named after the Loch Ness Monster.