Staff Photo: Brendan Sullivan Fourth-grade teacher Nate Dawkins delivers a high five to fifth grader Frankie Dominie as classmate Troy Wilkinson, far right, looks on while the school bus gets ready to depart during the last day of school at Simonton Elementary in Lawrenceville on Wednesday.
LAWRENCEVILLE -- Q: What's the best thing about the fifth grade parade?
A: "All the high fives and handshakes." -- Aniyah Hurst, 10.
An annual ceremony at Simonton Elementary, the noisy procession of outgoing 10- and 11-year-olds was set to a pop music soundtrack -- the hallways flanked Wednesday by kindergarten through fourth-graders, teachers and staff, all cheering them on.
Held 15 minutes before the bell rang, signaling the end of classes for the summer, Principal Clifton Alexander lined up as well to congratulate the rising middle schoolers on their graduation from Simonton. Alexander said that the last day of school is always "bittersweet."
"Students and teachers are ready for summer break, but it's an emotional time too, because these fifth-graders won't be here next year," Alexander said. "Some of them might not see their friends over the summer."
Students and teachers from all over Gwinnett County Public Schools said goodbye Wednesday before more than 10 weeks of summer break started.
Imani Choukair, a 10-year-old fourth-grade student, said she and her family will likely spend some of their summer vacation at the beach, with a Six Flags Over Georgia visit or two thrown in for good measure.
Choukair's teacher, Sheryl Pope, treated the class to ice cream sundaes as a reward Wednesday for being good all year.
The last day of school, said Pope, is a "time for goodbyes. Teachers get really sad when their students go for the summer. Sometimes we'll be crying, waving, while they get on the bus for the last day."
Ashley Stoudenmire wasn't crying, but she was giving her special education students a heartfelt 'goodbye' as she stood at school doors waving.
"Watching the school buses go, it's sad, but it also gives me a sense of accomplishment knowing they're going to the next grade," Stoudenmire said. "I'm proud of them."
She and several other teachers walked students out the doors. Many of the children turned to wave back as they boarded their bus.
"Have a good summer!"
Lydia Reid, who has taught for six years at Simonton, said she often tries to give her kindergarten students rewards on the last day of school. They had an ice cream party on Wednesday.
Students in Reid's class also got a visit from the principal Wednesday, which for many was a reward in itself.
A group of two dozen 5- and 6-year-olds rushed at Alexander, embracing him with a big group hug.
Alexander said he loves dropping by classes throughout the day, and he'll miss it during the summer. "The kids are a lot of fun," he said. "They're why I love my job."
Ten-year-old Hurst will miss her fellow students when summer vacation starts, but she'll cherish "all the time I get to spend having fun with them today."
Added Hurst: "And we get to finally march in the farewell parade."