Moving on is bittersweet for Gillispie sixth-graders




The Gillispie School’s sixth-grade graduation ceremony planned for Friday will be a bittersweet occasion for many of the 18 graduating students and their families.

After spending as many as 10 years together traveling through the early children and elementary school programs, it is now time to move on to middle school. Both the students and their families will take with them fond memories and lasting friendships of the time spent together.

Sixth grade comes with many unique opportunities at Gillispie, such as the exclusive use of a campus area known as the Sixth Grade Lounge — a special seating area where the students study, eat lunch and gather. The small class of sixth-graders also head offsite for specialty P.E. classes using facilities at La Jolla High School such as the swimming pool, running track and tennis courts. One of the most inspirational days of the year includes a special student-only assembly where each sixth-grade graduate is honored by a member of Gillispie’s teaching staff.

“Teaching this group of students has been one of the highlights of my career,” said Jennifer Stralla, sixth-grade lead teacher.

She spent quality time at the beginning of the year laying the groundwork for a safe and generative environment that cleared the way for academic success of the whole group. Co-teaching with Stralla was Susan Adams, Gillispie’s veteran upper-grade math teacher. Both teachers accompanied the students on many bonding trips throughout the year, including rock climbing, museums, hip-hop dancing and ice skating.

Another unique aspect of this class is that two sets of twin girls account for almost 25 percent of the class. Don Carlson, the father of one set, has been an active volunteer at the school for 11 years. He has served as president of the board of trustees and as a member of a committee for the newly established Gillispie Endowment for Excellence in Teaching.

Watching families like the Carlsons move on will also be bittersweet for Alison Fleming, head of school. Like Carlson, Fleming’s two sons also spent 10 years growing up in the preschool and elementary programs before moving on to middle school. These two parents have known each other for 35 years, having met in seventh grade at The Bishop’s School. They reconnected when their children entered Gillispie’s preschool program in 1998.

In 2008, Fleming became Gillispie’s head of school and Carlson served as board president.

Lydia McNeil, the mother of three daughters who all attended Gillispie, will serve as the keynote speaker at the June 11 graduation ceremony. Like Carlson, McNeil, whose youngest daughter, Mary, is a sixth-grader, has been a parent and active volunteer at Gillispie for 12 years. Carlson and McNeil will join the other 14 families on graduation day and listen as their children tell the story of their 10 years together. Most often, these speeches bring parents and teachers to tears.