Eastern Wayne Elementary School students got a glimpse into their future Tuesday morning when the Class of 2019 showed up and paraded through the hallways in caps and gowns.
It was a teachable moment come to life.
“Our students, we wanted to give them an opportunity to see the end goal, the end product,” said principal Robert Yelverton, who coordinated the event with Lee Johnson, principal of Eastern Wayne High School.
“This gives them a visual of their goal,” Johnson said. “Teachers are always talking about (getting students) college and career ready, even at an early age.
“Eastern Wayne Elementary is also the place it all began for many of our students 12 years ago.”
The actual commencement ceremony will take place at the high school June 15, with approximately 270 students receiving diplomas.
But on Tuesday morning, the candidates had a chance to practice walking, from the high school campus to the elementary school next door.
It was the first-ever graduation parade for her school, said Johnson, who was also an alum of Eastern Wayne. But it was not the first time for Yelverton, who rolled out a similar effort in 2017, when he was principal at Goldsboro High School.
“We did it at our feeder schools — North Drive, Carver Heights and Dillard Middle,” he recalled. “For the students it gives them an opportunity to go back where it all began, the grade schools, the elementary, so it’s something for them.
“And then our staff, some of them taught those students, so it was a special event.”
It was a reflection of the message Yelverton hopes his students learn early.
“This will give them a visual representation of ‘This is where we want you guys to be,’” he said. “Just give them an opportunity to see high school graduates.”
With the hectic pace of the end of school and the testing process, Yelverton said he and Johnson planned the occasion strategically.
“We didn’t want to interrupt instructional time,” he said. “It’s a brief event. It’s going to be a powerful teaching tool and a motivator for the students.”
Educators at the K-5 school got to see their efforts pay off as strains of the EWH drumline could be heard in the distance and a sea of graduates came into view.
First-grade teacher Laura Dean said she and her instructional assistant, Collette Waters, had been preparing their students for the special day.
“We explained that in 11 years they’ll be doing this one day,” Dean said, illustrating what they try to impart to ensure a solid foundation — hard work, determination, listening and following instructions.
But the arrival of the Class of 2019 also proved personally nostalgic.
“This class is the first class that I ever taught, when I first started teaching,” Dean said. “So this is an experience for me — it’s my first group, to see some of these that are coming through.
“It makes me excited because I haven’t seen some of them in a few years.”
She is also an alumna of Eastern Wayne, she said.
“It’s a big deal to graduate from high school,” she pointed out, adding that Waters’ son is also going to be graduating from there in two years.
“And I’ve had some of these babies,” Waters said.
Other first-grade teachers had children among the paraders, Dean said — Amanda Capps’ son, Danny, and Joy Hood’s daughter, Keturah.
Amid cheers, applause and an abundance of smiles, graduates-to-be were not immune to the emotion of the hour.
Taylor Smith fought back the tears upon entering the foyer where she spent many of her formative years.
What did the day mean to her?
“Everything,” she said. “I can’t even speak.”
Her classmate, Rebecca Kuhns, consoled her friend in a hug.
Kuhns attended Tommy’s Road Elementary School, she said, but admitted it was still an emotional day.
Two of Tracy Hand’s students, Justus Narron and Skylen Morgan, held up a bright yellow banner they had created with their class to welcome the visitors.
And kindergartner Makisha Ismond was recipient of a bonus experience, as she donned a graduation cap and her teacher, Sharon Foye, captured the moment on her cellphone.
“Am I the only one that tears up with graduation?” asked assistant principal Lois Marshall, wiping away the tears.
Even though she just transferred to the elementary school this year, she captured the sentiment for others like her with a heart for tomorrow’s future.
“This is why we do this — this is our goal,” she said. “Our purpose in life is to make it possible for them to walk for themselves, to have this moment, so they know they’re successful, they’re prepared, they can achieve anything they want.”
Marshall is celebrating 24 years in the profession, a legacy she shared with her parents, Joan and Ralph Smiley, who both dedicated their lives to education.
“This is what our family lives for — for child success,” Marshall said.