(HELENA) On Tuesday morning, about 30 Capital High School seniors walked through the halls of Jim Darcy Elementary School, dressed in caps and gowns. As “Pomp and Circumstance” played over the school’s public-address system, they got applause and high-fives from Jim Darcy students and staff.
These students are among hundreds of Helena High and Capital High seniors taking part in the annual tradition of “Grad Walks” – returning to the schools they previously attended in the last weeks before they graduate.
Cassie Brisko and Emily Kidder both spent years going to school at Jim Darcy, and said they were excited to return.
“It was super cool to come back and see all the teachers and see where we all started,” said Brisko. “It felt a little different; everything’s a little bit smaller.”
The Helena School District has been holding Grad Walks for several years.
“It’s a wonderful activity – one of the best days of the year – to be able to see the kids that went to their elementary school get some pride and joy, but then watching kindergartners through fifth-graders get to see what a graduate is,” said Jim Darcy principal Brian Cummings. “When the high schools came up with this idea, we were all in.”
At Jim Darcy, the tradition has extra resonance this year. This is the last class of graduates who will come back to the current school building. Crews are currently building three new elementary schools in the Helena School District, after voters approved a $63 million bond two years ago. A brand-new facility for Jim Darcy is set to open its doors in August.
“It was definitely cool to be the last class to walk through the old building and see it one last time, but it’s also kind of exciting that they get a new school next year, too,” Brisko said.
Cummings said school leaders have already packed hundreds of boxes, as they prepare to move out of the current building. It is set to be demolished starting the second week of June.
“Jim Darcy School has touched a lot of families and a lot of students in this community, and so it’s really bittersweet,” Cummings said. “The culture and climate will not change as we move into the new school, and the spirit of Jim Darcy School will not change as we move into the new school – but definitely, when we have our closing ceremony on June 6, it’ll be moving.”
This year is also a personal milestone for Cummings, who became principal at Jim Darcy 13 years ago. These graduating seniors were his first class of kindergartners.
“You don’t forget about kids when they’re in a school for six years,” he said. “As they come through, you recognize them, and you recognize them in the community; Helena’s still small enough to see them. But then when you see them as big kids, walking through the hals, it’s really touching.”
Jim Darcy was one of several elementary schools that hosted Capital High seniors on Tuesday. Helena High principal Steve Thennis said his students will visit their former middle schools next Tuesday, May 28.
Brisko said she hopes the Grad Walks will be an inspiration for the kids going through elementary school today.
“We just hope that they get this excited when they actually get to graduate and do the walk-through too,” she said.
Both Helena high schools will hold their graduation ceremonies Saturday, June 1, at Carroll College’s Nelson Stadium. Capital’s ceremony will begin at 10 a.m., while Helena High’s will start at 2 p.m.