Each year seniors go through one more ritual earlier in the day before the graduation ceremony at Millwood Public Schools. It’s called the “senior walk.”
Thursday, this year’s graduating class completed the tradition.
Dressed in their graduation robes, seniors walked single-file starting in the elementary school, then the middle school and ending among their peers in the high school.
Teachers and students of all ages were shedding tears and smiling through those tears on the long trek through several buildings.
The unified campus includes the elementary, middle school and high school in the 6700 block of N. Martin Luther King, Jr. Avenue.
Almost all the elementary teachers were crying as they saw the now-grown children they had in their classes years before.
One of them was Helen Bennett, third-grade teacher in the district for the last 11 years.
Some of the seniors waved and smiled as they went by. But some had to step out of line and give a long, tearful hug to their former teacher now shorter than most of them.
“When they come by to see me and they look so mature and they’re going off to college to further their education, it’s rewarding that I had something to do with that,” Bennett told Free Press.
One of the students who stopped with tears in her eyes was accomplished salutatorian Domonique Bruner.
From all appearances, it seemed that she had been in Bennett’s class. But, no.
The honor student didn’t start at Millwood until her sixth-grade year.
“I never had her class, but she always treated me like one of her students,” Bruner said.
It’s one of the many positive aspects of the small school district where teachers, parents (who are often alumni) and students all get to know each other over the years.
For an urban district, Millwood is unusually small and intimate.
It covers only 10 square miles, and is surrounded by Oklahoma City Public Schools, the state’s largest district.
A third and a fourth-grade choir performed for the seniors who paused to listen in the elementary gym.
As they sang a song of encouragement there was a unique quiet among the seniors and earnest performance of the children.
This was serious and meaningful business for all parties.
And like many other of the elementary students, they handed the seniors their notes of appreciation and encouragement.
One of the leaders of the choir was Derrick Hightower, fourth-grade teacher.
He said the ritual is very meaningful for his students.
“Our kids start off knowing that there is a promise for the end,” Hightower said. “When they see the older kids leave, it will make them want to also push to be there also.”
As the seniors walked through the high school there was an unusual level of respect shown by teens who normally give each other a hard time, even though some couldn’t resist.
After the walk Christine Harrison, Director of Teaching and Learning, talked about the extensive process of successfully bringing a student to graduation day.
“We don’t wait until their senior year to get them ready to go across that stage,” said Harrison about their unified academic preparation. “We have that plan of study all the way from eighth grade on.”
But they are shifting gears to generate even more success in years to come by starting the process in the sixth grade.
“In your sixth-grade year, you’re going to have a plan of study so that you can walk across that stage and meet all the requirements,” she said. “We take great joy in that. We look for 100 percent graduation.”
The 20-year veteran of the district was reluctant to take sole credit for academic leadership, saying “this is not a one-man show.”
She said that in too many districts the superintendent shows little direct leadership in academics. But not so at Millwood.
Harrison praised Superintendent Cecilia Robinson-Woods, completing her fourth year as top administrator of the district.
“She is the No. 1 true instructional leader. And then all of us fill in,” Harrison said about Robinson-Woods. “She’s everywhere and she’s great.”
After seniors were on their way back to other preparations for graduation we asked the superintendent about the value of the traditions like the Senior Walk.
She knows as an administrator, but also as a mother. She watched one of her sons participate last year on his graduation day.
“The senior walk is more about the kids who are watching than the seniors,” said Robinson-Woods. “But what it ends up being is more about the seniors and what they take away from it.”
“It’s kind of like walking through their past, and then walking into their future.”
Those seniors had to wait until the next morning to walk into their future because of storms in the city that night. But, they finally did.
That morning the pride of parents, alumni, faculty and well-wishers was summed up by one mother who could not help but shout when her daughter marched in.
“That’s my baby!”
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