When Kyle and his grandparents walk into Summit Elementary School on Success Night, the hallways are already buzzing with children and their families. Kyle’s grandmother catches sight of his second grade teacher and waves. Kyle says they’ll visit her room later. “First I’m going to show you what I’ve done this year,” he explains as he steers his family down the hallway toward his fifth grade classroom. Success Night, held on an evening in May, is the most popular family event of the year at Summit Elementary, a preK–6 school in Cincinnati, Ohio. This year-end celebration of all students’ accomplishments gives every child an opportunity to shine before families, teachers, and peers.
At Summit, this event has replaced the traditional year-end awards ceremony, which singled out some students and left others unrecognized. Success Night is both a more inclusive and a more positive way to end the school year. Fifth grade teacher Lisa Courtney explains, “With Success Night, students describe their achievements in their own words, and the focus is on celebrating growth and being proud, which applies to everyone.”
Every student in the school participates by creating a display highlighting his or her proudest accomplishments for the year. On the night itself, hundreds of family members attend the celebration. Most families spend the first forty-five minutes in their child’s classroom and then an equal amount of time visiting other classrooms. After the first half of the evening, teachers leave their classrooms so they, too, can see the student work shown throughout the building. “The hallways and classrooms are just decorated to the max with children’s work and reflections,” says kindergarten teacher Katie Geiger. “It’s the end of the year, but it’s so clear that learning is still going on.”
Projects customized by class
Although they all share the common goal of having students reflect on and represent their accomplishments from the year, classes prepare for Success Night differently. Teachers connect this work to curriculum and current issues in their students’ lives.
A kindergarten example: See how much we’ve grown
Katie Geiger integrates her class’s build-up to Success Night with preparing the children for their move from a half-day, mostly self-contained kindergarten experience to a full-length school day in first grade.
She begins by showing the children the pictures they’d drawn and sentences they’d dictated back in September to describe their hopes for their kindergarten year. At this age, the children’s hopes are usually quite simple and concrete. For example, they might have said they hoped to take care of a class pet, or to hear lots of stories. Ms. Geiger asks students to think about whether they accomplished their goals. However, she explains, this exercise is about more than seeing if their hopes came true: “It also gets children thinking about how much they’ve grown. When I show them these and other samples of their work from earlier in the year, they can’t believe how they used to do things.”
At the end of this process, each child makes a poster highlighting something she or he feels especially proud of having done in kindergarten. These posters are displayed in the classroom on Success Night.
When visitors arrive on Success Night, Ms. Geiger provides each family with a list of things they might do together during the evening. All of the evening’s events help students and their families look forward to first grade with confidence. Activities in the classroom, such as reading a favorite book, looking through journals, and admiring the posters, spotlight the students’ accomplishments and readiness for first grade learning. Other activities, such as visiting first grade and special areas classrooms, allow children to demonstrate their ability to navigate the school building.
A fifth grade example: Essays with accompanying evidence
For older students, such as those in Lisa Courtney’s fifth grade class, Success Night is the culmination of a reflective process that begins in April with preparation for state-wide testing. First, teachers focus on reviewing academic topics covered in fifth grade.
Then, after testing is complete, they ask students to reflect on their growth in four areas: academics, athletics, creative pursuits, and citizenship. Each fifth grader selects an accomplishment in one of those areas to describe in writing and support with evidence. Their essays and the accompanying evidence—such as certificates, notes from teachers, work samples, and objects—are displayed on their desks on Success Night. Families are invited first to look at their child’s work, then to peruse classmates’ work, and finally to visit other grade levels and specials teachers’ rooms.
Itinerary for Success Night from a first grade classroom
WELCOME to Summit Success Night! Be sure to . . .
- Visit the “Guess Who” bulletin board in the hallway. Have your family try to find your riddle.
- Check your mailbox. Someone has left something special for you there!
- Show your family your animal report.
- Visit the second grade classrooms (Rooms 204, 205, 206, and 207). Look for things that are the same as and different from your first grade classroom.
- Thank your family for coming and sharing in your success tonight!
Specials room displays
Special area classrooms also have displays on Success Night. These rooms showcase student products and processes from the year in their respective subjects. Specials teachers tend to use the first forty-five minutes, when almost all students and parents are in their homerooms, to travel through the building, see classroom displays, and connect with students. They then return to their “home bases” for the second half of the evening, which is when most parents and students come to visit them.
Community building, an added benefit
Success Night not only provides parents, grandparents, and other family members with an opportunity to learn about their own children’s accomplishments—it increases families’ sense of connection to the school as a whole. With teachers, students, and their families intermingled throughout the school, all learning about student accomplishments across grades, “it feels like a celebration of all of us,” says Lisa Courtney.
Success Night also helps people in the school deepen their knowledge of each other, which is as important at the end of the year as at the beginning. By seeing students’ displays in the hallways and reading students’ reflections on their accomplishments in a variety of areas, teachers and classmates learn about children’s talents, interests, news, and growth. Many classes make games for Success Night that build on this theme. For instance, first grade classes make posters with a question written on a flap (“Guess who got a baby brother this year?”). Players make a guess, and then check their answer by lifting up the flap to see a child’s photo and name.
A beloved ten-year tradition
It’s been a decade since Summit Elementary began Success Night. Over the years the school has fine-tuned the year-end event, from finding simple ways to make displays more effective (for example, leaving folders containing student work open rather than closed) to having students practice being guides for their families beforehand. The result, ten years later, is a smooth-running all-school tradition that celebrates all students and is universally beloved.
An adapted excerpt from In Our School: Building Community in Elementary Schools by Karen L. Casto, EdD and Jennifer R. Audley