Fremd, Palatine seniors return to grade schools to inspire youngsters
Graduating Fremd and Palatine High School seniors donned caps and gowns Friday to serve as a positive inspiration to thousands of young students.
Palatine Township Elementary District 15 welcomed the teenagers into 14 of their former grade school homes for senior walks. District 15 became the latest addition to a small-but-growing list of suburban school systems with senior walks, which gained traction after video of one in Texas went viral in 2016.
Children typically line hallways and applaud as the teens pass through in single file wearing their caps and gowns for the senior walks. District 15 officials, who coordinated Friday's walks with Palatine-Schaumburg High School District 211, said the idea is to have the seniors inspire the next generation to reach higher.
Haley Nelson was among about 30 seniors with green caps and gowns from Fremd who returned to Hunting Ridge Elementary School in Palatine. The children sitting on the floor outside their classrooms -- some holding signs such as "We Are So Proud of You" and "You Will Always Be a Hunting Ridge Hawk" -- cheered as the seniors walked by and high-fived some of them.
Nelson became emotional when she gathered with her friends after the walk. She said it was "super cool" to see the happiness of the young students as the seniors went by them.
"I knew it was going to be fun to come back and see all my teachers, but just realizing how much they grew up, like when I saw my fourth-grade teacher and I remember we were picking out wedding dresses for her to get married, and then I just saw her with all her kids around her," Nelson said. "So, it was just crazy to see we're not the only ones that were growing up and changing. They all were, too."
Some retired Hunting Ridge teachers came back for the fun, including Kristie Charles and Deb Kelly. Both women got to see their former third-grade students.
"I think it's amazing," Charles said. "Just a few minutes ago we saw the first-graders up there looking down. And what an inspiration (from) this group of educated former Hunting Ridge students, just to come back and show what can happen. Very inspirational."
Video of Van Independent School District's senior walk in Texas went viral in 2016, leading to continued inquiries from across the country on how best to organize it, spokeswoman Lynsey Admire said Friday. She said it's become something the Van area, about 75 miles east of Dallas, looks forward to each year.
Admire said a new twist was added in 2018 by pairing a child who completed kindergarten with a high school senior for the walk.
"We added our kindergarten graduates to our walk last year, since that shows the big picture and gives our younger students a tangible representation of where they will ultimately be one day," Admire said. "We had approximately 150 kindergarten students this year and 190 seniors."
At Barrington Area Unit District 220, its third annual senior walks will be spread over May 28 and 29 at elementary buildings and St. Anne Catholic School in the village.
For the third consecutive year, Arlington Heights Elementary District 25 will collaborate on senior walks with Northwest Suburban High School District 214. Patton Elementary School's with John Hersey High School will be May 23 and Windsor Elementary School will welcome Prospect High School on May 28.