Little Longhorns celebrate fifth-grade graduation

University of Texas Elementary School Executive Director Melissa Chavez stands with Sonny Martinez, Iliana Banda, Andrea
University of Texas Elementary School Executive Director Melissa Chavez stands with Sonny Martinez, Iliana Banda, Andrea Garza and Ariel Hernandez. Photo: Leslie Blair

Home. That is how many University of Texas at Austin alumni feel when they step onto campus. And it is exactly how the students graduating from the fifth grade at the University of Texas Elementary School (UTES), a part of the Division of Diversity and Community Engagement, feel about their campus.

Four students participating in the fifth-grade completion ceremony Wednesday night spoke about their school and what it meant to be a "Little Longhorn."

"UT Elementary is like my second house," said Ariel Hernandez, a graduating fifth-grader. "I cut the ribbon when the school opened and just stayed."

Andrea Garza, another graduating fifth-grader said, "You can express yourself here. The teachers feel like, aunts, uncles and cousins. It feels like my second family. The teachers and staff have been so considerate of us and give us the privilege to do all sorts of amazing things."

Iliana Banda added, "Everyone is so nice and kind; if you get hurt, they take care of you."

A few highlights this year included a field trip to Port Aransas and Corpus Christi where students learned about marine science, rode on a boat, and saw marine life such as stingrays and squid. One class even caught a bonnethead shark.

Olympic Day comes in a close second for memorable fifth grade experiences when the team that lost the tug-of-war got pelted with water balloons.

Garza, Hernandez and Banda have been at UT Elementary since it opened in 2003. They attended pre-kindergarten at the school and will attend East Austin College Prep Academy next year. Sonny Martinez, who started at UTES in the first grade, will go to Fullmore Middle School. They all admitted being nervous and excited about going through the completion ceremony and moving on to middle school.

The four agreed, though, that the caring staff of UT Elementary School has prepared them for middle school and beyond. They all knew immediately which colleges they wanted to attend. Not surprisingly UT was a top choice, but Harvard, Michigan and Penn State also made the cut.

When asked about advice for the students following in their footsteps at UT Elementary, Martinez said, "Believe in yourself. When you come to this school, you will get a good education. Don't do anything you'll regret."

However, it was Hernandez's advice that left the other three students nodding in agreement: "Even though we'll leave here, we will always want to come back."