By Rhonda Apple, Pentagram Staff Writer June 17, 2013
One of the most significant events in any child's life is school graduation. On June 7, wearing bright blue graduation caps and gowns, 58 children from Strong Beginnings Child Youth and School Services pre-kindergarten class at Cody Child Development Center on Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall received their diplomas during two graduation ceremonies.
Parents, grandparents, siblings and friends smiled and waved at their loved ones and snapped photos as the children from the Robins and Bluejays class of 2013 marched into the CDC gym to the graduation song "Pomp and Circumstance."
John Pico of the Robins class carried the American flag as he led his classmates into the gym for the first ceremony. Ashley Tomlinson of the Bluejays class carried the flag during the second ceremony.
Yvonne Hart welcomed family members to the graduations, followed by the children reciting the pledge of allegiance and singing "We Love our Flag."
"I am so impressed with everything this Strong Beginnings Class has accomplished, all the great contributions made by the teachers, parents and Family and everything you've done to get these students ready for kindergarten," said JBM-HH Commander Col. Fern O. Sumpter.
She credited the children with learning how to count and write their names, learning science; math; manners and consideration for others and kindness during their enrollment in the pre-kindergarten class.
"Strong Beginnings originated as a program to ensure that as military children moved [with their Families] around the world, they always had a program that would prepare them for kindergarten," said Sumpter.
"This has been the Army's role and responsibility for our young people ... preparing for kindergarten."
She also credited the children's parents, grandparents, extended Family members and friends for the important role they all played in the students' development. Sumpter encouraged the children and their Families to continue reading throughout the summer, and to participate in programs at community libraries and visit museums.
"Today is the day your little boy or little girl grows into a much taller, more independent person as they transition to big boys and big girls ready to go to kindergarten," Sumpter said.
Children entertained guests with the song "We All Sing with the Same Voice," prior to receiving their diplomas. A few kids skipped as they moved toward a podium where Strong Beginnings staff handed out diplomas. Others walked seriously. Some turned and smiled at their Families in the audience. Family members smiled, and a few grandmothers wiped tears of joy from their eyes.
The Robins performed an energetic "The Harlem Shake" dance and the Bluejays performed "Do You Dance." Some children enthusiastically threw their graduation caps in the air.
"I want to thank everyone for coming today and entrusting your children to us over the past school year and extend best wishes as they begin this new life and exciting adventure called kindergarten," said Dawn Thompson, CYSS coordinator. "We hope we've done our best to prepare them adequately."
Five-year-old Chase Grady said "I like learning ... I like drawing shapes - circles and squares." His mother, T'rina Mitchell, a government civilian at Arlington National Cemetery, said Chase started class at the CDC in September, 2012 and will attend the summer program at the CDC before he begins kindergarten at Long Branch Elementary School in Arlington. "Chase has really enjoyed attending school here, has been very consistent and gets along well with his peers and teachers," Mitchell said. "He's truly ready for kindergarten."
"I like math and coloring pictures. I will miss my friends here but I will meet new friends," said Ashley Tomlinson, who stressed her age was "five-and-a-half years old."
Ashley's mother, Alison Tomlinson, said her daughter grew up in military child development centers - enrolled from six weeks old - during her father, David Tomlinson's military service. "We're an Air Force Family and now Ashley's dad is a government civilian with the Department of Defense Career Management Agency. We are so happy with the Strong Beginnings program, the teachers and everything Ashley has learned," Alison said.
"The hardest day working here at the CDC is graduation ... it's difficult to hold back tears because the children are graduating," said Strong Beginnings teacher Liza Popalzai, who has been employed at the CDC for 14 years. "We're all happy for these children and very proud of them - they're ready to go to kindergarten."