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Fifth graders celebrate promotion to middle school

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Staff Photo: Keith Farner Roberts Elementary Principal Dion Jones speaks to students and parents at a celebration of achievement event for fifth-graders at the school on Wednesday.

SUWANEE -- When Wanda Law stepped to the podium, she had several props and a bag of tricks that she hoped would calm the fears of graduting fifth-graders and their parents.

At Level Creek Elementary's fifth-grade graduation on Tuesday at Suwanee Sports Academy, the North Gwinnett Middle School principal focused on the transition to middle school. Law quizzed the graduates about their old mascot, a Leopard, and their new mascot, a Bulldog.

Then Law pulled on a Bulldogs' basketball jersey over her gray suit.

"It's a great opportunity to talk to parents and kids and put to rest their fears of middle school," Law said.

Near the end of her speech, she rehearsed how parents could react to family and friends asking about middle school.

"You have a child going to middle school?" Law said, as her voice trembled, then she repeated the line in a more upbeat tone.

Law gave a similar speech, with another jersey, at Riverside Elementary School's awards ceremony on Wednesday at Sugar Hill Church.

Around the North Gwinnett cluster this week, teachers gave hugs and wiped away tears as fifth-graders participated in celebration days and awards events. Law and North Middle opened on Monday for a meet-and-greet for next year's sixth-graders and their parents.

In her opening remarks at its event, Level Creek Principal Nancy Kiel told the fifth-grade students that they had set the course for graduation by the choices they made.

Alumni of Level Creek, Katie McLaughlin and Matt DeWilde, seniors at North Gwinnett and Lanier spoke at the event, and recalled sitting at their own graduation seven years ago.

"The most important lesson is to not give up when you mess up," DeWilde said.

McLaughlin encouraged the students to study hard, be tolerant of other people's views and pursue their passions.

"Middle school is the time to explore and do different things," she said.

Red and black balloons adorned the cafe on Wednesday at Roberts Elementary, as Principal Dion Jones led a celebration of achievement. In his speech, Jones openly asked about the next steps, and waited until he received a response about college from the fifth-graders.

"It's your job that they continue on that road," Jones said to the parents on hand. "We set the foundation. We're passing the torch to you guys to carry it the next two legs of this race."

Like Level Creek, Riverside held its ceremony at an outside facility to accommodate students' family and friends. Principal Craig Barlow said while seating reached capacity of more than 800 seats at Sugar Hill Church, it's better than having three separate cermonies as the school previously did.

This year's fifth-grade class had a passion for community service, Barlow said, and he pointed to a fundraiser called "Coins4Kids," which was developed by two fifth graders as a donation for kids in Nairobi, Kenya.

"They're a very caring group of kids," Barlow said.