Last day of school for Wichita public school students

Those whoops of joy you heard emanating from Wichita school buildings Wednesday?

That’s the sound of summer vacation.

Wednesday was the last day of school for thousands of Wichita students. They celebrated with picnics, book giveaways, music, slide shows, ice cream socials, yearbook signing parties, lots of smiles and even a few tears.

(High-schoolers celebrated with exams, which isn’t much of a celebration at all, so we’ll just move along with this story.)

At Earhart Environmental Magnet Elementary in north Wichita, fifth-graders lined up to pull a rope and ring the school’s green bell as a final good-bye to their elementary school years.

“I’m happy and sad,” said Sophia Smiley, 11. “Happy because I get to have summer, but sad because I’ll miss all my friends and teachers.”

Fifth-grade teacher Jan McLaughlin agreed.

“They’re just going to shine,” she said of her students, her voice cracking as she gave each child a hug. “They’ve learned so many incredible skills. They learned to work together. They learned to support each other.

“And they learned some math and reading, too.”

At L’Ouverture Computer and Technology Magnet Elementary, students who did well on state reading assessments or who reached their reading goals during the year were rewarded with extra recess, snacks, a free book and other treats to take home.

Six-year-old Janae Carroll chose “Sir Winston Walrus and the Great Rescue” from the stack of books, then sat down on the library floor and started flipping through it.

Her friend Alexandra McAbee chose “Shamu’s Best Friend.” (Apparently, kindergartners love sea creatures.)

Librarian Rhonda Willome gathered the students and asked them about their summer plans.

“How many of you are going to go swimming?” she said, and several children raised their hands.

“How many of you are going to go on a picnic? How many of you will ride your bikes?”

More hands.

“And how many of you will read over the summer? I better see every hand go up!”

Willome urged the students to read at least 10 minutes a day – “If you read more than that, you’ll be even smarter,” she said – because when they return to school as first-graders in the fall, their teachers will want them to read again and read even better.

“What?” Alexandra gasped, her eyes wide. “Are you kidding me?!”

That’s right, kids: The school bells might stop for the next few months, but the learning shouldn’t.

Across the district, students at several Title 1 schools – those that receive additional federal funding for large numbers of low-income students – got packs of four to eight paperback books as part of a Scholastic summer reading program. The packs include activity sheets for each book, designed to encourage parental involvement and keep kids learning over the summer.

At Earhart, 11-year-old Pippa Bennett said she didn’t want to leave her teachers and classmates, but she’s already looking forward to middle school.

“Hopefully,” she said, “I’ll be able to learn even more and expand my knowledge.”