San Miguel Elementary sixth graders graduate after emotional year

Any parent can get emotional as their child reaches a milestone and starts a new chapter of their life. For the parents of outgoing sixth graders at Santa Rosa’s San Miguel Elementary School, even more was riding on Friday’s promotional ceremony.

Six of the nearly ?60 sixth-graders lost their homes about 20 months ago in the Tubbs fire, which scorched a large portion of the Larkfield-Wikiup area where the school is located. Some had already moved away before Friday’s gathering, making the tribute paid to the outgoing class even more special.

Amanda Stephens, the school’s art docent, worked in collaboration with parents Kara Aguirre and Evan Johnson to create a ?30-minute video to spotlight all the graduating students from their time at the campus, starting from kindergarten through the sixth grade.

The memento, shared on a flash drive with each member of the class, was meant to stand, in some small way, for the priceless childhood memorabilia reduced to ashes by the 2017 fires.

“It’s important to get those memories back that they lost,” said Stephens, whose twin girls were among the outgoing class. The students also were given their photos that adorned the wall of the gym where the ceremony took place, as well as clay eagles, the school’s mascot.

The flash drives given out with the documentary were donated by LogoTech, an ?Illinois-based USB drive manufacturer.

More than a dozen parents helped set up on Thursday, and the school community shared a picnic together. “We’re family,” Stephens said. “I’ve said that the minute I walked on this campus.”

The video screened during the ceremony went as far back as baby photos of the students, then their time in class and on field trips. The promotion crowd shouted out the names of those they recognized and laughed at the students’ goofy antics.

“For many of the families, it’s been seven years here from (kindergarten) and on, so this is a significant rite of passage,” said John Menth, a sixth grade teacher who has worked at the school for 30 years. “One thing that we tell our new staff members is that we’re a family, we’re a tight family. We completely embrace that the students are all of our students. So we’re bonded to all of them.”

Mark West Union School District Superintendent Ron Calloway said the ceremony was important as it celebrates the culmination of seven years of building vital academic skills, while propelling students on to the next steps of their future.

“You have made quite an educational journey and you are ready to fly like eagles and move on to the next chapters of your life,” Calloway said to the outgoing class.

He noted the bittersweet feeling that parents often have, fueled by memories of holding their kids’ hands taking them to kindergarten and now seeing them move on to junior high.

“I’m just stunned to see how time flew. Just seeing how they progressed from kindergarten on up, it seems like a matter of seconds,” said Deborah Hepper, whose grandson, Owen Thurman, graduated from the sixth grade. “We’re so proud of him. He’s worked really hard for this and he’s ready to move on, happily.”

Principal Patrick Eagle said the ceremony honoring students was also an “opportunity to thank all the people that helped them get to where they were - volunteers, teachers, administration.”

He praised the tribute video as a special keepsake. “They can look at it as many times as they want and then they have a memory of all their friends and activities and field trips that happened while they were at San Miguel.”

This tight-knit school emerged even stronger after the fires, Menth said. “The silver lining is the community came together and these kids felt supported and it will last through these little hard drives,” he said.

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