The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion D.C. is wrongly excluding teachers from graduation

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Erich Heckel and Samantha Averett are teachers at Theodore Roosevelt High School in D.C.

What does it mean, as a teacher, to love your students?

It means you are often at school early or late to set up, work with students, make phone calls, grade papers, create lesson plans, make copies for the lesson and engage in a host of other activities that you could not fit into your regular eight hours. It means you check in on students when they are absent, sick, missing or seem upset, or just need a little extra attention. It means you listen to problems, concerns and celebrations. It means you write recommendations and nurture their hopes and dreams as if they were your own. It means you spend time advancing your knowledge and perfecting your craft so you can be better, more knowledgeable and diverse in your instruction.

You do all those things and more so you can be a better person and help your students make it to the finish line.

Unfortunately, this year, staff at many DCPS high schools will not be able to be there for their students on graduation day. Like many districts in the area, DCPS has allowed schools to opt into centralized graduation sites and ceremonies where DCPS covers the costs of graduation and sets the graduation schedule; this year, most graduations will occur at the Entertainment and Sports Arena in Southeast. Unlike most districts in the area that have centralized graduation planning, DCPS is not suspending classes for schools that have daytime graduations that run concurrently with the school day. This effectively means that staff members at schools are not easily able to attend graduation because there are still students in the school building.

To have individuals who were not there on the journey in the same manner make a decision to exclude you from the finish line is heartbreaking.

DCPS’s vision statement is that “every student feels loved, challenged, and prepared to positively influence society and thrive in life.” There is a reason DCPS begins its vision for schools with the word “love.” Anyone who works in a school building knows that relationships and love are the cornerstones of a good education.

The action of limiting the engagement of the community, the village and the support system from the celebration dishonors the ceremony and the culture of love that we have developed. We all remember our graduation days from high school, college and graduate school. Those moments are memorable because as we crossed the stage, we were able to look to our teachers, support systems, professors and advisers who helped us along the way. We all remember taking pictures with those teachers, supporters and advisers after the ceremony, in the parking lot, in lobbies and outside of the venue. We introduced those supporters, teachers and advisers to our family members who all embraced and beamed with pride at that moment and that day.

So, to take all those memories away for D.C. Public Schools students who have experienced so much loss physically and emotionally in the past two years is unthinkable and unconscionable.

It’s not too late to correct this for the graduations that will happen this month. DCPS still has time to suspend classes on graduation days so that classmates, faculty members and staff — students’ support systems — can stand in the space and celebrate the journey. In this way, schools can live up to the DCPS vision by making sure that, on the most important day of their high school careers, every student feels loved.