"Awesome Job!" read the handmade sign one smiling young student handed quickly to Jessalynn Brito, 17, in a hallway crowded with cheering students and teachers at Amityville's Northwest Elementary School on Thursday.
For Brito and about 240 other seniors in Amityville Memorial High School's Class of 2019, the morning was a poignant peeling back of the years for the annual rite of "Senior Walk."
Decked out in shiny red graduation caps and gowns, they stepped off five school buses outside Northwest Elementary for the 10-minute trek through the halls that many once strode themselves, to celebratory applause and enthusiastic high-fives from dozens of people, young and not-so. The strains of "Pomp and Circumstance" played over the school's sound system.
"Look at them — they are so cute," Brito said of young pupils. "This is just so great."
The seniors, who repeated their walk at the district's two other elementary schools and at Edmund W. Miles Middle School, were among the first on Long Island to take part in what has become a tradition now in many districts as graduation draws near.
Educators say the benefits are many: Younger students are inspired by the older ones' accomplishment, and the seniors have a special chance to reconnect with former teachers and cherish where they started out.
Kayla Barrett, 17, made her way along the hallways at Park Avenue Memorial Elementary, stopping to hug several younger students she knew.
The Senior Walk "gives an opportunity to show the kids how far you can make it, no matter what you do. I started from pre-K and now I am finishing my 12th-grade year and going to college and further and further," said Barrett, who will attend Virginia Commonwealth University.
At Northwest Elementary, Jacob Thomas, 7, held up a congratulatory sign on light-blue construction paper. In marker, he had written words he associates with school — "Gym, Math, Music, Writing, Puzzles."
"I feel good," the second-grader said as he watched the seniors. "I never had this happen before."
This is the fourth year for the Amityville district's Senior Walk. Superintendent Mary T. Kelly called it a "systemwide celebration" that allows the seniors "to reflect on their experience and education and see their teachers who … have had an impact on their lives."
Roxanne Tannenbaum, a music teacher at Northwest, spoke of the happiness that pervaded the halls. She is retiring this year after a 25-year career.
"This is my last one and I am just thrilled to see them having come so far," Tannenbaum said. "I see them progressing … and they then take off like birds in the sky."
In the Harborfields district, this is the first year that seniors will make their walk.
The graduates-to-be, nearly 300 strong, will go next week to Thomas J. Lahey Elementary School — right across the street from Harborfields High — which has grades three through five.
Next Friday, which the district has designated to celebrate seniors with a barbecue and other events, members of the Class of 2019 will walk across the street, dressed in their green and white caps and gowns.
At Lahey, they will enter through three separate spots and be greeted by the elementary students and some of their former teachers. Principal Tim Russo said the PTA and educators in the district had learned about the tradition in other districts and wanted to bring it to Harborfields.
“It will be a great message for them,” he said, referring to the grade-school students. “This is your ultimate goal, to graduate and get the chance to walk along with your lifelong friends and walk back to where you started."
The Senior Walk has become a welcome tradition in the East Rockaway district, too. This year it will be held on June 20.
The 12th-graders, wearing their black caps and gowns, are scheduled to walk the halls of both of the district's elementary schools. At Centre Avenue Elementary, the younger students often wear shirts from their school or shirts with a college name.
“Sometimes they will pop into a classroom and take a photo with one of their former teachers," said Sherry Ma, principal of Centre Avenue. As for the staff, “they see them graduating from high school. The teachers who have been here awhile get to see them. And it is full circle — they see them as grown men and women."