Many teachers and families are already deep into the back-to-school process, but I am still thinking about the graduation we held at Grafton’s Winchester campus last June. This was my 13th graduation at the school – all of which have been very powerful and moving. This year, though, was a little bit different. And that’s why it’s stuck with me so many months later.
To begin with, never before have we had so many graduates. On average, we have about seven each year. But this year, we had 13, many of whom had large families that were eager to participate. And we loved nothing more than to accommodate everyone who wanted to show their support to these amazing students! The event became so large that we actually had to go off campus to find a space that would fit us all.
That is how we arrived at Winchester Church of God on June 22. Holding the event at a church created a very different feeling. When we have it at Grafton, it’s a pretty jolly affair. At the church, everyone was in a joyous mood, but there was also a sense of reverence and reflection.
The deep relationships between the staff and the families added to the ambiance. Grafton has placed a high priority on cultivating family engagement. As they get to know each other outside of the “normal” channels of multi-disciplinary meetings and individualized education planning, stronger bonds between staff and families have been forged. We have also created more opportunities for students, families and staff to have fun together. We often host events — picnics, fall flings, etc. — at which people are able to get to know one another in a social setting. It allows staff to better understand parents as individuals. Parents, in turn, are able to see the Grafton team as more than just the professionals serving their child.
These events also provide an opportunity for families to get to know each other and to create their own community. By engaging with each other, they are establishing connections and a network of support that exists outside of Grafton’s walls. As a result, at the graduation ceremony, families were celebrating not only their child, but every child receiving a diploma.
At every graduation ceremony, we ask anyone who would like to speak to come up to the stage. This year, with so many families having deep, trusting relationships, many people wanted to give their testimony. They spoke about life’s journey with their child, what it meant to find Grafton and what it means in terms of their child’s future. Parents also spoke about the impact individual staff members have had on their child. It showed me that we are on a good path; that ensuring families are engaged with us and with each other will make our community even stronger.
Even though Grafton is always “in session” and back-to-school doesn’t have the same connotation for us, I get excited in the fall just like any other educator. I love this time of year. But I can’t help thinking back to last June. I am also planning for June 2019 when we will see a new group of wonderful Grafton graduates and their families come together for their own special day.