Kathie Giordano wants everyone to know that she's normally quite good in front of large audiences, quite composed with the microphone.
And yet, as she was called on to hand out certificates to her graduating sixth-graders in the gymnasium of Louise Archer Elementary School yesterday, the 26-year-old teacher known affectionately as "Mrs. Gio" just lost it.
With tears streaming down her face, she had to have Principal Judith R. Azzara hand out the certificates while a choked-up Mrs. Gio simply hugged each of them as they came forward.
"I can't believe I fell apart," she said afterward with a laugh. "Don't quote me as the crybaby of the school."
Other farewells have played out in classrooms throughout the region as teachers and students parted either for the summer or for the last time.
Schools in Fairfax, Arlington and Montgomery counties closed yesterday, while those in Prince George's, Prince William, Loudoun, Howard and Anne Arundel counties closed earlier in the week. Schools remain open through Monday in Alexandria and through Tuesday in the District.
Like many schools, Louise Archer in Vienna held a shortened day that was dominated by a farewell assembly to honor students .
The highlight of the ceremony came toward the end, when the school awarded its first Stephen Carmichael award for citizenship to graduating sixth-grader J.R. FitzSimons. Named for a former Louise Archer student who died of a brain seizure last fall, the award was presented by his mother, Elyse Carmichael, who leaned over and told J.R. that Stephen would have been proud.
That tore Mrs. Gio up.
Already crying, she was then called on to begin handing out certificates when she broke down. Despite her embarrassment and her students' good-natured ribbing, colleagues and youngsters alike said that typified how much she cares for her kids and her teaching.
"I'm supposed to have some sort of control," a red-eyed Mrs. Gio, who teaches a combined fifth- and sixth-grade class, lamented after the assembly.
Back in her classroom, students milled around, posed for pictures with Mrs. Gio and talked about their summer plans. Lots of trips are in the works, visits to California, Massachusetts, Florida, Puerto Rico, Haiti, Pennsylvania, various beaches.
Lauren Speight, who is "10 going on 11, sorta," sounded like a commercial. "I'm going to Disney World," she announced.
Mike Vraneza's plans were less ambitious. "I'm not doing anything," the 12-year-old sixth-grader said. "Staying around the house."
Suddenly, the bell rang and the kids roared. Jumping up and down, their hands thrust in the air, the youngsters cheered their newfound freedom.
"We're outta this stinkin' school!" yelled Adam Jacobs, 12, who just graduated from sixth-grade.
"Adam!" exclaimed Mrs. Gio "Watch it! I know where you live!"
The rising seventh-graders streamed out, but not before each one got a hug and an admonition to "be good." A few minutes later, there was banging on the window from the outside and several now-former students stuck their heads in to scream, "Ha ha! We're home free!"
Meanwhile, inside, the no-longer-fifth-graders ("As of 11:30, we're sixth-graders, and it's after 11:30," Alicia Stallman, 11, explained dutifully) were spraying mousse all over one boy's hair and gleefully erasing the last homework assignment on the chalkboard. In its place, they wrote, "I love you, Gio" and "No more work."
Mrs. Gio tried to regain control -- of the children as well as herself.
"All right, fifth-graders," she said.
No one listened, so she raised her voice. "Hey, dirt bags!" she screamed. "You're mine next year, so you better knock it off!"
But soon, the teacher who uses the word "groovy" to describe things she likes and makes gum-chewing scofflaws stick it on their noses, was watching the last of her charges flow out the door.
One boy found a "No Talking" sign and asked Mrs. Gio if he could write something on it.
"Is it a dirty word?" she asked.
"No," he said, so she told him to go ahead.
Under the warning, "No Talking," the boy tacked on two words: "or crying."