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Etc.: PMS’ last day

POSTED March 10, 2017 11:05 a.m.

I got to perform the dual roles of reporter and parent at the first of two meetings about the Platteville Middle School eighth-grade ceremony Wednesday.

The impression appears to be that at least some eighth-grade students (perhaps younger siblings of previous eighth-graders) and at least some of their parents feel that moving the ceremony from evening to afternoon is taking away something from them and deemphasizing the event. When eighth-grade boys, who often communicate with adults in one-syllable sentences, say they feel like something has been taken away from them, that is one tipoff that a decision has more impact than perhaps the people making that decision realized. 

PMS principal Jason Julius apologized for the communication breakdown in which the cart (rescheduling the ceremony) was put before the horse (telling parents about potential changes to the ceremony). By spring break eighth-graders and their parents should know whether the don’t-call-it-graduation ceremony will be at night or during the school day and what is expected to take place.

We had an eighth-grader and have an eighth-grader. We don’t recall getting much information about the ceremony three years ago as relatively new residents of the school district. The first thing that therefore comes to mind is that there may need to be better communication with parents about what will take place, what students should wear and so on.

I wasn’t at Thursday’s parent meeting (see page 16A), but the overwhelming opinion from Wednesday’s meeting (see page 1) from parents who expressed an opinion was to keep the ceremony at night. Even in an area with a lot of shift workers, night is probably still more convenient than a school-day event. Any eighth-grader with siblings in school (or Platteville Public Schools staff, as is the case for at least one eighth-grader) wouldn’t have had their siblings at the ceremony either, and that is a big priority for some families.

I admit to having some initial mixed feelings. Going to school in Madison in the late 1970s, we had a dessert dance (imagine “Saturday Night Fever”-esque polyester), but no ceremony on our last day in middle school. If you think about it, though, unless a student is in Boy Scouts or Girl Scouts or a similar activity, completing middle school is probably their first major accomplishment in their lives, and the first time in their lives they’ve been given adult-like responsibilities. There is a huge difference between middle school and high school. Middle school is not an easy experience for middle-schoolers.

One teacher at Wednesday’s meeting noted the hurt look on some students’ faces to not be individually recognized in the academic awards section of the program. That probably comes down to PMS’ managing expectations for students and parents alike over what will take place. And given that Platteville High School has activity options for nearly everyone, maybe that will spur a student who participated in nothing outside of going to class to try something new once the student gets to high school. 

Achievement should be recognized, especially academic achievement, and that’s one feature of the eighth-grade ceremony. You have not read a PMS honor roll listing in The Journal because PMS doesn’t release an honor roll. I’m not sure that’s the right decision, but that is PMS’ decision.

There appears to be an issue about dress of some students at the ceremony. One way to deal with that suggested at the meeting is to sell, or give, all the eighth-graders T-shirts commemorating the PHS Class of 2021, or something similar. But there will always be parents who go above and beyond to the point of going overboard, and there’s really nothing that can be done about it other than, again, managing expectations as to what will happen and should happen that night. 

A number of parents who attended Wednesday’s meeting got the impression, based on body language, that the decision to shift the ceremony to the afternoon has already been made. Independent of the merits of the decision, giving the impression of not listening to your constituents is a good way to lose public support. Platteville Public Schools voters voted to spend $15 million of their tax dollars for school renovation projects, and PPS has, at least in my experience here, gotten considerable public support. What happens if that public support starts to diminish in such areas as event attendance and contributions to the PPS Scholarship Fund, Platteville Sports Boosters and Platteville Music Boosters?

This school district has done a lot to encourage school pride among students and in the community — emphasizing Henry Hillmen, getting national recognition for PMS and the schools’ music programs, even coming up with a standard shade of cardinal for schools in the building project. Giving the appearance of deemphasizing a traditional event and making it harder for parents and family members to attend that event isn’t going to encourage school or community pride.

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