Educators say eight-grade graduation being blown out of proportion

Dave Haney

Like many of her classmates, Lashay Linwood is looking forward to graduation next month, with all the parties, fancy dresses, and for some, even a limousine.

"It’s pretty common," she says of the graduation night amenities. "I’m hoping to get me a limo."

After nine years of schooling, the Trewyn middle-schooler says it’s only appropriate to celebrate the accomplishment.

That’s right, Lashay is only 15. She’s graduating, not from high school or college, but from the eighth grade.

That’s where some Peoria District 150 officials are starting to raise eyebrows.

"What we’ve noticed is the big celebrations," said board member Mary Spangler, remarking on what appears to be a growing trend, "as if some didn’t know if they would be graduating high school."

Describing some of the celebrating as "ridiculous," board member Jim Stowell noted, "When you see limousines, that’s over the top."

Many schools have incorporated cap and gowns, speeches, music, covers for diplomas and the sort, holding the ceremony in the evening; Lindbergh Middle School Principal Mary Davis said, "It’s a lot like a high school graduation."

Spangler and some of her colleagues have loosely discussed whether to eliminate, or at least somehow put a cap on the middle school graduation ceremonies.

"We just want this to be a transition to the next step, not an ending," Spangler said.

Tim Delinski, a principal at Sterling Middle School who has been teaching at District 150 during the past 27 years, said the ceremonies certainly have escalated.

"From handing out a certificate as they walk out the door on the last day to robes and limousines, in some cases," Delinski said.

He and other principals are planning to discuss future graduation days. "It’s something we need to look at as a district, we should be consistent."

Most school officials are quick to point out the emphasis already out there that eighth grade, much less high school, isn’t the end to a student’s education.

"We play down the word ‘graduation,’" says Rolling Acres-Edison Junior Academy Principal Deloris Turner. "We say it’s a day of ‘celebration’ of students moving from middle school to high school on their education journey."

Turner and others point out they are aware of what students and their parents are facing.

As some put it, there’s peer pressure. To have that elaborate dress or suit as well as an accompanying party, which translates into parents sometimes forced to feeling they have to provide such things.

Still, an end-all isn’t what most have in mind.

"Everybody needs to feel they have succeeded as they move to the next level," says board member Martha Ross.

She wonders if holding all the graduations at one time at one place, such as the Civic Center, and setting some guidelines might cut down on excesses.

Board member Linda Butler suggested keeping the ceremonies at the individual schools, but holding the graduation in the morning or afternoon of one of the last school days, also allowing the other students at the school to attend so that they may share in the success and be encouraged to the same.

Of the dozen middle schools in District 150, most reported the graduation ceremonies not costing the district any money. Parents typically pick up the $20-$25 cost for cap and gowns, although Washington Gifted School showed a budget of about $1,400 for food, drinks, DJ, decorations and the like for a dance; Von Steuben listed a budget of about $130 for programs, cookies, balloons, cups and water; Charles Lindbergh Middle School plans to spend about $2,000 — all of which is paid by their Parent Teacher Organization; and Lincoln, about $45 on flowers.

Dave Haney can be reached at (309) 686-3181 or