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Viewpoint: Hoping for hugs and tears at year's end

Do you remember the last day of school when you were a young tyke? Everyone was in a great mood. That day changed as I grew older, but it never lost its special quality. It just had a feeling that is difficult to describe.

Of course we were happy; we'd finally have time to play, no homework, and we could stay up later on weeknights. But that final day in school each year was special because, I think, of the teachers.

During my first eight years of school, I was surrounded by nuns. As I recall, the end of the year also meant the nuns would do a "spring cleaning" from their book inventory. They'd sell textbooks to anyone who wanted to buy them. There may have been literature books, but I don't remember that as well. I loved textbooks, and I often came home with a new batch each year. My parents likely didn't understand it either. Now, after 33 years of teaching, maybe I do. Except, I remember the textbooks weren't necessarily in my field of strength. I bought, usually for a dime to a quarter, any textbook I could. I do know I'd go home and play "school" in my head, using the textbooks I had purchased. Until I began writing for you this week, I had forgotten about buying those books. Apparently, I was already thinking of being a teacher at a young age.

When I got to the middle and high school, it changed a bit, but teachers still needed to clean closets, only now they weren't selling books. They were giving them away. I did the same with my classroom cupboards numerous times in my tenure. Kids were crazy about freebies. They'd scoop up whatever they could. It made more room for more books to be acquired that I'd likely give away years down the road anyhow.

Leaving school during the first eight years came with hearty goodbyes and usually tears as we left the nuns. As I moved into the teen years, it was still important to see the teachers and wish them well before heading into summer. That desire for freedom could wait a few more minutes.

When I came to RHS, the end of the year was vastly different. In the early years, you wouldn't believe the final day. The tradition for a while seemed to be for every student to go to his or her locker (they were still using their lockers when I began teaching), take whatever notebooks they still possessed, rip all the paper out of it, and throw it in the air. Worksheets, quizzes, tests, whatever they had in their folders as well. This is no exaggeration — the floor, once they were all gone, was literally covered in paper. From one end of the hallway to the other. From the bottom floor to the top. Had cell phones existed, there'd be proof of this in photos. It was amazing.

The school then decided to have an annual "locker cleanout" afternoon. It took about 25 minutes. Students were to go to their lockers with their homeroom teacher and clean out whatever was not needed in the final weeks. Overdue library books and textbooks found their way back to the proper departments. The homeroom teacher checked off that each student completed the task. We never saw paper on the floor on the final day of school again.

Then we moved into the water balloon and water gun phase. Students would come to school with a backpack full of small balloons filled with water. When classes would change, and the stairwells were jammed, a student would open up his/her backpack and begin pummeling students on the steps with water balloons. Kids would come to class dripping wet. That eventually ended but the water guns lasted another year or two longer. The gun crisis brought that to an end.

Then, I'd say in the final 10 years of my career, the last day of school became about as anti-climactic as a final day of school before summer vacation could get. Few students stopped by to wish us a happy summer; it was more likely they left their final test with the bell, got their stuff and walked out like it was just another weekend. No emotions. No drama. Suddenly, it was just adults.

Has it changed in the two years I've been gone? I don't know, but my guess would be no. Does it say anything about us as a society? I think so, but I'll let you draw your own conclusion. I hope at the younger levels, there are still hugs and tears and lots of human interaction. We need it.

Next week, let's talk music. Why? Cuz the second annual Jazz Blast will be a reality! See ya!

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