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Teachers and staff give pupils a hand


Shaine Woodard, a 13-year-old eighth-grader, was ready for the summer and the challenges of high school as he bolted down the halls of Wilde Lake Middle School, but the sights and sounds of 85 staffers, lined up to greet him, slowed his quick strides.

The adults - standing on both sides of the school's hallway near the front entrance - whistled, shouted, cheered and clapped as Woodard and 189 other eighth-graders left the building yesterday for the last time.

The Wilde Lake Middle School "clap-out" is an annual send off that the staff gives as a final salute to graduating eighth-graders.

"It felt really good," said a smiling Shaine, who was the first eighth-grader out of the building. "I'm glad I graduated and I'm going to high school. I'm proud of myself."

The tradition works thanks to a little planning from the staff and a lot of patience by the anxious eighth-graders, who wait in the school's eighth-grade area. While the older pupils wait, the sixth- and seventh-graders are escorted out of the building. Once the halls are cleared, the adults line up.

What follows is a send-off that leaves some pupils pumped with excitement and others in tears.

Mary Mussaw, an eighth-grade English teacher and organizer of the clap-out, said that although the pupils know about the tradition, it is still powerful.

"It's not really too much of a secret," she said. "They've known because they have had to leave the school a little bit earlier [when they were younger] ... but they haven't seen it."

About 45,000 county students from 70 schools walked through their schools' doors yesterday for the last time this school year.

And while many schools held end-of-year activities, Wilde Lake's unique tradition proved special once again.

"It's a way to recognize students who have been here since sixth grade," Mussaw said. "It shows what a great job they've done in the three years they've been there."

Richard Jackson, a physical education teacher at the school for 35 years, said the salute started in the 1970s and never gets old.

"It's like your kids grow up and leave the house," said Jackson, who is retiring.

Arlene Wilder, an alternative education teacher, held several tissues in her hand as she waited in the hallway.

"It's very emotional," she said. "There is a sense of accomplishment. Seeing them go from the sixth to eighth grade ... they are ready to go to high school."

Lashawnna Brown, who is headed to Atholton High School, wiped tears from her eyes after she exited the school.

"It is so hard to say goodbye to everybody," said Lashawnna, who held a large white poster board filled with messages from her friends. "Some people you'll see. Some you won't."

Scott Conroy, the first-year principal at Wilde Lake, said the clap-out was perfect.

"It's a nice way to go out," he said. "It was wonderful. There was a lot of emotions, hugs and high-fives."

Julia Nicholson cried often because the end of the year meant that she would be separated from two of her friends in the fall.

"We're all going to Atholton," Julia said, as she stood with her friends. "Two are going to Wilde Lake."

Marissa Zellnak, a member of Nicholson's group, said she planned to hang out as much as possible with her friends before heading off to Atholton.

"We've been signing memory books, taking pictures," she said.

Jenna Boule was one of the two girls in the group who will attend Wilde Lake High.

"I'm going to miss my friends so much," she said as her voice cracked and her eyes started watering.

Marissa, who also was crying, said she was looking forward to high school.

"This school is so tiny," she said. "Atholton is really big. It seems really cool."

Connor Cortes couldn't stop smiling at the thought of attending Atholton in the fall and making an immediate impact.

"I'm out of here forever," said Connor.

Ariana Johnson said she was going to miss her science teacher, Mr. Walsh, the most.

"He was really nice, and he was always there," she said.

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