Eighth graders will not have a formal promotion ceremony at the end of the school year, a staple in recent years.

The move is part of an ongoing change in the Hesperia Unified School District: Graduation-like ceremonies are being phased out of the HUSD, reserving the caps and gowns for graduating high school.

"Junior high, eighth grade, promotion ceremonies have gotten way out of hand, where it looks like a real graduation," with stages, lighting and security needs, said Jovy Yankaskas, the district's assistant superintendent of educational services. "It turns out to be a great ceremony itself, yes, but I think it's taken away from graduation itself. That's what we're focusing on: twelfth grade graduation."

Hesperia Junior High School Principal Robert McCollum has been on all sides of the issue. The parent of a child who had a promotion ceremony at Hesperia Junior High School, McCollum was also previously the principal of Sultana High School. And the junior high promotion ceremonies were longer and more involved than high school graduation.

"We have 1,200 kids, well, 1,110," he said Friday. "Even getting [a Sultana graduating class of] 500 kids through takes quite an effort."

And as a parent, he didn't find the experience rewarding.

"Having the experience of having a child here myself, the kids line up, they read their name, and that's it," he said.

"I've had a daughter who went through Ranchero and got a promotion, and it was nice, but it was nice for me because I was under [shelter]," Yankaskas said. "It wasn't as nice for her."

"The former [Hesperia Junior] principal spent a lot of money on shade structures," McCollum said, "And, well, I wanted to spend it on the kids."

"The change has been a long-time coming," Yankaskas said. "We used to do it with kindergarten, and they looked on it as it as a graduation from kindergarten into first."

Instead of a promotion ceremony, both Hesperia Junior High School and Ranchero Middle School will wrap up the year with a Memory Day on May 29, which will combine awards ceremonies with a field day for students. (Cedar Middle School only has seventh grade students this school year, the school's first.)

"There will be a climbing wall, and some jousting and some tug of war," Ranchero principal Cindy Costa said. Students also successfully lobbied her for laser tag. "From there we'll do a barbecue luncheon."

There will be a "Ranchero Idol" assembly after lunch, and promotion certificates will be handed out to students throughout the day.

"We want to do stuff where the students will all be able to participate," she said. "It's kind of a celebration to the last day of school."

Hesperia Junior will have a similar line-up for their Memory Day.

For parents and grandparents wanting a picture of their eighth graders all dressed up, both Hesperia Junior and Ranchero will be holding semi-formal eighth grade dances before the end of school.

"Before the dance we're going to have photographers available," Costa said. "We're going to have that start an hour before the dance."

McCollum has heard few complaints about the change, he said.

"We sent it out in the newsletter right before spring break," he said. "In the last three weeks, I've received three messages."

"Certainly, I had a few calls, but usually when we explain what we're doing, they were happy with what they heard," Costa said.

The issue hits home in the Yankaskas household, which has one daughter who had a promotion ceremony at Ranchero, and a younger daughter who will not.

"She said 'Mom, Alex got to do it,' and I said 'well, now you get to start a new tradition,'" Yankaskas said. "My oldest told her 'you're going to have more fun. You were going to be sitting in a chair for two hours in the heat.'"

Beau Yarbrough can be reached at 956-7108 or at beau@hesperiastar.com.