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Lathrop School gets A+ for its eighth grade promotion

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POSTED May 28, 2010 3:01 a.m.
Lathrop Elementary Principal David Silveira gets extra credit for going against the grain.

In a day and age when it seems like nobody in education – except for a special few – are willing to upset the apple cart or do anything out of the ordinary, Silveira seems to have installed a unique tradition at Lathrop Elementary that the takes the annual promotion of 8th grade students to high school and turns it into a true community function.

And he’s done so by stripping away almost all of the glitz and glamour that have turned what should be an open-collar affair into an almost circus-like event that at times has included limousines, tuxedos and fanfare that puts most high school graduations to shame.

When I arrived at Lathrop Elementary Thursday morning for the fourth 8th grade ceremony I had attended this week – and the first of three that particular day – I naturally expected that there would be a line of parents halfway around the multipurpose room that housed it for me to navigate through as I tried to find the hordes of gown-clad graduates to snap a few photos of.

But upon walking inside, I was puzzled to find that there wasn’t a gown in sight and it seemed that those who would in fact be progressing on to Lathrop High School next year – comprising the first class that will spend a full four years on campus – were happily eating breakfast with their families.

“Can you point me in the direction of the graduates?” I asked one of the men handing out programs with the names of all of the graduates on them.

“They’re pretty much scattered all over the place,” was his reply.

After reading the program to make sure I was in the right place, I found a spot near the front of the building to grab a seat and figure out how to get the best photos when a man who looked quite familiar approached me with his hand extended.

It turned out to be Silveira himself, wanting to point out that the names that were being read off at the time – honor students that all achieved GPAs above 3.0 – wasn’t the actual ceremony, which was set to begin shortly.

I cordially shook his hand, took a look around the room, and instantly felt my respect for him grow tenfold when finally figuring out what was actually going on.

This wasn’t your typical 8th grade “graduation” – where parents often hip-check their way to the front to get pictures of their graduate walking in and fight for the best vantage points to record the ceremony for the family vault.

In fact, it wasn’t a “graduation” at all.

It was the Lathrop Elementary 8th grade “promotion” ceremony, and the concept had single-handedly eliminated many of the things that I’ve come to loathe about covering events like this at the end of the school year.

There was a time in this country when most students wouldn’t progress much further than the 8th grade before being relegated to work in a factory in order to support their family or take to the family farm in order to learn the ropes that would be their lifelong trade.

But completing high school has become so commonplace in recent years – with programs in place to help those who are struggling and those who have had to overcome obstacles like early parenthood – that it seemed to make the 8th grade ceremony something that was, well, nothing more than ceremonial.

I couldn’t understand why my father wasn’t as enthusiastic as I when it came to picking out new dress clothes for my own 8th grade graduation.

I also couldn’t understand why he was against trophies for participation in Little League – something that I grew up thinking was completely normal.

But now that I’m a few years removed from that age, everything is coming into perfect focus.

Surely making the jump to high school is a major milestone, but it isn’t something that needs to be polarizing for the students or their families – forcing those who catch a ride to school in the family sedan to feel any less successful than those who have parents than can afford a tuxedo and a limousine to reward their student for doing what they were supposed to be doing all along. Paying attention in school, doing your homework, and progressing to the next level.

I realize that, unfortunately, not everybody who progresses on to high school will graduate.

But while California might rank lower than a state of its stature should on a national scale measuring educational success, we still have dedicated teachers, staff members, and even principals that are willing to go the extra mile to help students achieve the goals they set for themselves.

Going against the grain might seem insignificant to some, but what Silveira has done at Lathrop Elementary is give each and every one of those students moving on the motivation to spend the next four years buckling down so they can don that gown – and a cap – and receive a diploma that will open more doors for them than any 8th grade completion certificate ever could.

He hasn’t lowered the bar – he’s raised it.

Tradition in and of itself is fine, and I’m not here to say that schools that have long histories of elaborate 8th grade ceremonies are any less important than those who adopt a new format.

But failing to recognize a change that has not only unified a school but seemingly an entire community would be a disservice to those who were brave enough to adopt it in the first place.

It might be a small step forward, but it’s a step forward nonetheless.

Kudos, Principal Silveira, on putting things into the proper perspective.

Hopefully it’s only a matter of time before everybody else follows your lead.
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