Middle School Moves away from Year-End Awards

by Natalia Dokla and Nikoline Thomassen

This year‘s middle school grade leaders have made a big decision: there will no longer be awards at the middle school end-of-year ceremony. To many, this has been a long-awaited decision, but it took others by surprise.  

At the end of every year, there is a ceremony for each grade from 6-8. In the past, the purpose of these ceremonies was to recognize certain students and hand out awards.

“Over the years the processes and approaches to giving awards has changed,” said Upper School Principal, Mr Sheehan. “At one time, there were not only the few individual recognitions, but also awards that represented top academic achievement in each of the subject areas. So, in the recent past, there has been a conscious diminishment of awards.”

 Mr Sheehan said, “Each year, when we have given out awards to just a few students in our Middle School, there erupts a lot of extreme emotions and hard feelings among our community members. Teachers worry that they have left students out. Parents are upset that their child was not recognized for the hard work. And students feel slighted and wonder why they haven’t been able to measure up to those few peers who are celebrated.”

Last Year’s 8th-Grade Graduation Ceremony. Photo by Toby Brunt.

Mr. Sheehan went on to quote educator and writer Alfie Kohn, “In short, good values have to be grown from the inside out. Attempts to short-circuit this process by dangling rewards in front of children are at best ineffective, and at worst counterproductive.”

None of the four students we interviewed from grade 6 had any background knowledge about either the ceremony, generally, or the termination of this old tradition.

When asked about whether they were looking forward to finding out who got the awards, all of them responded with a “yes”.

Maria G. said, “Well, I guess since were in sixth grade it’s our first year in middle school so we would actually have the chance to get one.”

Florence M., who is currently in the 8th grade, questioned the value of the speeches at an 8th-grade graduation, “They replaced the awards with two speeches about gratitude and achievements of the class 2022. Like, my class has no achievements. This is not meant to be offensive to the rest of my grade. It’s like, for only 8th grade, what kind of life-changing achievements could we have done?”

8th-grade teacher Ms Hay said, “I have wanted it for ages, but it was a big discussion (every year), we’ve seen so much growth in all and with awards, we can’t recognise everyone, so we’d rather recognise no one.”

“I would be excited for the end-of-year ceremony if there were awards recognizing students’ academic merits. I want there to be a principal’s list for middle school,” said Florence.

A question discussed by many is “what about the plaques in the hallway?”.

Mr Sheehan says, “We will likely retire the plaques to our archives…find a way to keep them…because they are important memorabilia of our school. We certainly have plans to replace them with a new system of honors, one that is more inclusive and accessible to all students, should they decide to pursue, on a non-competitive and inclusive basis, high achievement in academics, activities, attendance, and approaches to learning. The goal is for each student — every student — in our school to recognize and develop his/her unique talents and interests. That system of “Warrior Awards” is in development right now, at both the Middle and High School levels, and we hope to unveil it in the 18-19 school year.”

Last Year’s 8th-Grade Graduation Ceremony. Photo by Toby Brunt.

Reflecting on the switch from award to speeches, Mr Sheehan added, “In a way, this was a very easy decision, because all of the teachers worry about hurting kids. The last thing we want to do is send students home on the last day of school feeling like they have failed or they don’t measure up. On the other hand, it was a very hard decision, because we know the joy it brings to a few students who have worked diligently throughout the year and they are missing out on that accolade that says, ‘You are special!’ It is important to recognize our students’ adherence to everything we value, such as the IB Learner Profile traits, but we need to find a better way to do that.”

“This is a nicer way to end the year” said Ms Hay. “It’s better to celebrate the end of the year instead of a specific person.

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