End of Year Awards in Upper Elementary and Middle School

There is no happiness like the end of the school year happy.  Even though it feels like it takes until April to get every student working in sync with classroom expectations.  Even though it’s hard to let go of the kids that you are finally making a breakthrough with. There is a joy that the year is coming to an end.  There will be a break for everyone.

Teachers need the summer break because there are always going to be kids that are a challenge, to put it kindly. But by the end of the year students have made gains.  We have found positive things to focus on about each student.  And naturally, we are sad to say goodbye.

How do we say goodbye to these kids?   How do we end the school year on a high note?  My school ended the year with an Awards Night.  It was for every student in every grade level.  It was a perfect and poetic way to end the school year.

Awards Night

As I write this I think it’s important that you know this is the Awards Night I was part of in a private school. The private school provided the teachers with opportunities that are not quite the same as some other schools.  It also gave us a different student population.

My school provided the outlined schedule for the night, but really gave the teachers a lot of autonomy on how to run their awards.  It was so nice that they gave us ownership so that we could run an awards night that was meaningful for our students.

Here is how it worked.

  1.  The Art Show 

Sometimes when parents are arriving and waiting for something to start it can be so awkward.  There are forced conversations and just waiting makes the wait twice as long.

At my school, we would have an art show while everyone arrived.  The art teacher spent at least two weeks hanging up all the art projects he could fit on any and every wall in the school.  There was no lack of color anywhere.  

As parents arrived they would have a chance to look at all the artwork, say hi to fellow parents, and quick hellos to teachers who may be busy getting the awards ready.  It was a chance for students to show off their hard work in art because too many art projects are recycled before they ever go home. Parents also got to see what kinds of projects their child may participate in in future years. 

  1. The Book Awards 

Yes, that is what we call it.  There are two parts to the Book Awards or at least in my 5th and 6th-grade classroom there were.  The Book Award and the Candy Award.

The Book Awards were just that, a book.  Every student was given a book by their teacher, paid for by the school.  This takes some preparation.  A month before the awards night teachers start to look for the perfect book for each of their students.  We usually used Scholastic book orders or Amazon.  The goal is to gift your students a book they would love to read over summer vacation.  

I really got to know what types of books my students liked over the school year.  My school gave me a budget of $5 per child. Sometimes I’d get several books that were $4 so I could get some more expensive books and stay in budget. It was important to have a good reason for choosing that book for that student: love of history, to read the same book with their best friend, or they love cats and will only read books about cats. 

On awards night there is a specific time to start the Book Awards.  We’d announce to everyone viewing the art show that the awards would start in two minutes.  If you have two kids in the school please start with the younger child’s class (some years it was the older child’s class) and teachers would be sure to get your child done so you could make it to the second award.  

During the actual awards ceremony, I would brag about each of my students.  I would tell why they were getting the book I picked out.  Why I personally thought it was perfect for them. The reasons ranged from expanding their book choices, to things they loved, to reading with a friend, to a favorite subject area, to something that you knew they’d love because it was so funny. The important part was that it was personal.

They would also get a Candy Award.  I think my co-worker got these from a TpT store, but I don’t know whose.  The Candy Awards were things like a Gummy Worm for the student who read and reread every book.  She loved to read more than any kid I have ever known.  There was a 3 Musketeer for the kid who was friends with everyone.  He was so friendly and thoughtful.  He didn’t care if someone was cool or not, he liked to talk to everyone.  It made seating charts hard, but it made his classmates feel liked. And of course, they got the matching candy.  Who doesn’t like candy?

I know this sounds like a lot of work.  It was.  But I also know some of these kids never had anyone talk about them so positively before in their lives.  They finally got to know how good it felt to hear someone say so many good things about them.  It shocked these kids when their classmates clapped and cheered as they got their awards.  And honestly, I teared up a lot.  The work was worth it.

  1. Athletic and Drama Awards

My school is not known for its athletics.  It’s just not who these kids are.  However, we do have sports teams and we believe in celebrating any personal victories as well as team ones.  

My school did have a big drama program.  Our teacher toured with Broadway shows just a few short years before.  She was fantastic and lead our students to drama competitions in the state.

We did not have a separate awards night for athletics and drama.  During the book awards the drama teacher and athletic director would pop in to announce a few of their awards.  They often started in the youngest class and worked their way up.  It let students celebrate with their classmates and gave me a break from giving awards and doing a lot of talking.  

After trying different approaches over the years it was determined that this approach worked the best. In the past, they did the athletic awards a half hour before, or on another night. However, it was hard to get everyone to so many special events. So when the school tried this approach it was liked by everyone.

  1. Wrap-up and Announcements

When the awards were done parents were encouraged to take a look at the artwork if they hadn’t on the way in.  They were reminded about the end-of-year competitions, parties, and parent/teacher conferences.  As each grade finished both the students and teachers got to head home.

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