After Frederic Francois and Mason Hortlon had taken their final walk through the halls of Downes Elementary School, they agreed that they felt a sense of accomplishment.

“It was like being a senior in elementary school,” Hortlon said, noting that when they head to Shue-Medill Middle School in the fall, they will be like freshman.

“I went to five different elementary schools,” Francois said. “It’s great to be past it.”

“It’s hard to believe we’re sixth-graders,” Hortlon added.

As Christina School District schools came to a close on Tuesday, Downes’ graduating class of fifth-graders took part in the annual “clap out” tradition, where the students matriculating to middle school take a final walk through the halls, while their younger peers, teachers and families applaud their exit.

“I’m so excited for them. I know they’re going to have such a good time in middle school,” Principal Anne Park said as the festivities winded down.

She said watching the students exit with fanfare was exciting.

“I knew it was a big tradition,” said Park, who started in the role as principal in December 2018. “It gives you chills.”

The students paraded through the halls, led by teachers and staff members who are retiring. As their loop led them outside of the school, they accepted high fives, flowers, balloons and hugs.

After being clapped out by her peers, Emily Brandli felt awesome, she said.

“I’ve spent so long waiting for this moment,” she said. “I feel a huge sense of accomplishment.”

She’ll miss her friends at Downes – “they’re hilarious people,” she noted – and recess, because it represented freedom, but she was looking forward to walking around the middle school, taking time going from class to class.

At the end of her last day as an elementary school student, Kayla Blydon was also looking forward to Shue, where she said they would have more freedom and more responsibility.

Looking back at her time at Downes, she said it was full of assignments, projects and hard work.

“It took a long time of working super hard to get to this point,” she noted.

The future, though, is exciting.

“I hope everyone else in fifth grade does good in middle school,” she added.

Students around the district will enjoy a longer-than-usual summer vacation – a total of 83 days – before heading back to class Sept. 3. This is the first fall in recent memory that Christina schools will open after Labor Day. The school board approved the later start date, which has been a frequent request from parents.

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