May brings closure to school year with more fanfare than pressure

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School used to come to a close around here in May and start up again after Labor Day, giving students three full months of summer vacation.

Students could feel the school year winding down when May came around. The end-of-year activities were predictable and not particularly stressful back then.

Elementary schools usually had a field day in May when all students could compete in athletic events. We associated field day with the end of school, just the way students do today.

At my elementary school we would “march around the monument” and throw flowers on the big mound in the cemetery adjacent to the school on May 10 and then buy little refreshments in the school yard and socialize until the end of the day at 3 p.m. This event in May made us feel that the end of the school year was just around the corner.

Elementary students at my school looked forward to the annual class picnic in late May. The grade mothers would prepare sandwiches, cookies and lemonade and help the teacher chaperone the class as they walked, yes walked, over to Gold Park.

We would eat our picnic lunch and then play all we wanted to on the old-fashioned playground equipment until it was time to walk back to school. Girls could actually wear shorts to school on that special day.

In those days there was no barrage of standardized testing, no pressure to get those things done. High school teachers finished their curriculum requirements and gave old-fashioned exams with pencil and paper.

Back then the high schools celebrated Awards Day, Class Day, the Baccalaureate Service and finally the dignified Graduation Service in the school auditorium. I cannot recall any whooping and hollering back then as students walked across the stage to receive their diploma.

Toward the end of May, many students were in a frenzy of signing their friends’ annuals (what we called yearbooks back then), while some seniors were busy playing some pretty decent senior pranks, as well as some that were not so decent.

When the last day of school rolled around, we walked home or rode the bus with our final, hand-written report card in our possession. We all hoped for good grades, a check indicating that we had been promoted and a positive comment from our teachers, all of which would make our parents proud.

I still have some of my old report cards, and they are still in their manila envelope.

Back then the pace of the last weeks in May was slower, the stresses were fewer, the fanfare was exciting and the prospects of summer fun were just as sweet as they are for today’s children.

Teachers might have had one or two days of work after the students were gone. They had to fill out all those cumulative folders by hand and tie up all the end-of-year loose ends.

Back then, May was busy but more relaxed than it is today. These days many families have so much stress and so many school and community events to attend that they are frazzled by the end of the school year.

Many things have changed since the days when May was a little more relaxed, when school ended with less to-do and when students looked forward to a three-month summer vacation.

May is different today from days past. Maybe we should ask parents which is better — then or now.

I am sure most of them would have a strong opinion.

Sanda Baucom Hight is retired from Wilson County Schools after serving as an English teacher and is currently a substitute teacher in Wilson County. Her weekly column focuses on the charms of home, school and country life.