I spent the week celebrating with 4 of our partner programs: 3 graduations plus an impromptu Student of the Year celebration. As a result I feel (somewhat) qualified to survey 'what works in end of the year parties'
- Pomp and circumstance, and graduation gowns (ever though I resented the hats every time they made me wear them at my own graduations). I got teary watching students I didn't know walk in in gear I suspect they never expected to wear. I don't think I was the only one.
- A photo background. Mostly, though, all of the teachers and supporters with their phones out to document the smiles and certificates. Also, group photos. And selfies. Really, any way to memorialize the achievement.
- Celebrating many forms of success - I saw certificates for participation and HiSETS, but also great attendance, moving up a level, helping the program out. My favorites were a few special awards that were more or less, for being a valued part of the community (the mother hen, the 'most likely to be mayor someday', the ones who blossomed in class)
- Inviting the families. (And not just because I got a tootsie pop and a hug from an adorable kindergartner). Many of the students are doing it for their families, others are doing it with their families as sisters or parents or partners provide the ride and the childcare and the moral support it takes to come to class every day.
- Student speakers. No offense to the honored guest speakers, who are all lovely and eloquent, but they can't compete the students who are living it. I had to make a note on my phone at one party, as a young woman, sober a year, declared "I love myself more now than I ever did before" and another announced he wanted to be an engineer "because it's a challenge, and I like a challenge" (He's my student, he does)
- Beaming students. Weepy teachers. Proud family and friends. Hugs between all of the above.
In the end, what works, is seeing students succeed. And seeing the community -- in and out of school -- that supported them, celebrating together. I'm proud that our volunteers are part of that team.
By my (incomplete) count, at least 28 students in classes we work with earned their HiSET this school year. Congratulations graduates, and congratulations to the dozens of others who improved their English and/or took steps towards their HiSET.