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Night or afternoon?
PMS considers school-day eighth-grade program; parents object
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Platteville Middle School eighth-graders and their parents should find out by the time their spring break starts next week when their eighth-grade completion ceremony will be.

Meetings with eighth-grade parents were held at PMS March 1 and 2 after the school announced, then backtracked on, moving the end-of-the-year program from the evening of June 7 to that afternoon during school.

More than 30 parents attended the 50-minute Wednesday meeting.

PMS principal Jason Julius said changes in the ceremony had been considered for the past three years, including ending the practice of having students individually walk across the stage. The departure of PMS guidance counselor Laura Melby, who had done most of the work in setting up the ceremony, after last school year presented an opportunity for other changes.

“I struggle with eighth-grade graduation,” said Julius at the Wednesday meeting. “I struggle with eighth-grade graduation because it’s not graduation. To me, graduation is high school graduation or college graduation.” 

“We understand it’s a promotion, it’s promotion from the eighth-grade level, and it’s exciting. It should be exciting,” said Platteville School Board member Colleen McCabe, a parent of an eighth-grader. She said many parents would have difficulty taking time off during the day to attend the ceremony. “I think some of that feels like that was taken away from us,” she said.

One parent who would have difficulty attending is Neal Wilkins Early Learning Center teacher Denise Johnson. She said she didn’t feel she could leave her own students on their last day of class to attend her daughter’s ceremony.

“I have a classroom full of kids that day,” she said. “I don’t feel right leaving them on their last day of school.

“Some of our kids have different things going on in their lives, and some of them really have struggled to get to this point … that needs to be addressed.”

Platteville High School teacher Maureen Vorwald, who worked some of last school year at PMS, said she was “really impressed” with last year’s ceremony. “You can see what eighth-graders go through,” she said. “It’s a really tough year.”

Vorwald said a ceremony during the school day would “not have the same significance” as an evening ceremony. The ceremony has “that feeling of I accomplished something. ... I don’t know that we celebrate as much as we should.”

Eighth-grade teacher Jay Gesin said the ceremony includes academic awards, followed by students being individually introduced. “I’ve always been concerned that we’re hurting students’ feelings who aren’t involved in a lot of things like Quiz Bowl and Science Olympiad,” he said.

“I think we’re celebrating them,” said McCabe. “This is their night. They should feel proud, and if the kids didn’t do it, they need to work harder.”

Randy Knight, a Platteville Youth Basketball eighth-grade boys coach, said his players have been discussing the issue at practices. “This is affecting the kids more than the parents,” he said. “This is your eighth-grade night.”

Other parents said an afternoon ceremony would not allow eighth-graders’ siblings to attend the ceremony due to such conflicts as Platteville High School exams and last-day activities in other classes.

“We did this 35 years ago,” said parent Curt Timlin. “It’s a great thing. It should continue. … The reason we take pride in our schools is we were a product of them.”